ABA Forms New Commission to Review Mandatory Minimum Sentences, Prison Conditions and Pardons

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 6, 2003 – _ President Dennis W. Archer today announced formation of a commission to address the “inadequacies – and the injustices – in our prison and correctional systems” identified by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in a speech to the ABA Annual Meeting in August. In his speech, Kennedy criticized the nation’s imprisonment policies and called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes. He asked the ABA to address these problems.

“We applaud Justice Kennedy’s leadership in starting a dialogue on these crucial issues and are honored that he chose to call on the ABA,” said Archer. “The commission we have assembled is one that reflects a broad cross section of the legal profession, and one that will rise to answer that call.”

The ABA Justice Kennedy Commission has been charged with reviewing and making recommendations on:

  • Whether the use of mandatory minimum sentencing at the state and federal levels should be repealed, including evaluation of whether sentencing guidelines need to be revised and whether they have had an adverse impact on judicial discretion in sentencing;
  • Why more than 40 percent of our 2.1 million prison population are people of color;
  • Prison conditions, with, if necessary, recommendations for improving them;
  • The reasons for high rates of recidivism, with recommendations for reducing them; and
  • How the pardon process works at the state and federal levels and, if necessary, make recommendations regarding the process.

“This is an enormous challenge, but also an extremely important one,” said George Washington University Law Professor Stephen A. Saltzburg, chair of the commission. “The time has come to rethink problems that have been accepted as part of the status quo for a long time. We welcome the opportunity to review these issues and develop proposals that we hope will make the system more fair and more just.”

The commission will conduct its review during the next year, with an eye toward preparing a report with recommendations to be considered by the ABA House of Delegates during its Annual Meeting in Atlanta in August 2004. As part of its review, the commission will hold public hearings and invite the broadest possible participation. The commission tentatively plans to schedule hearings in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 12-14.

Archer appointed 14 ABA leaders to serve on the commission. Its members include: Phyllis G. Bossin, chair of the ABA Section of Family Law; Maryland District Judge Pamila J. Brown of the ABA Section of General Practice; Ian Michael Comisky of the ABA Section of Tax Law; Andre M. Davis, a federal judge and representative of the ABA Judicial Division; Robert M. A. Johnson, a Minnesota prosecutor and representative of the ABA Criminal Justice Section; King County District Court Judge Eileen A. Kato of the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice; Albert J. Krieger, member-at-large; Mark J. Krudys from the ABA Section of Business Law; David C. Landin of the ABA Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements; Laura Ariane Miller of the ABA Litigation Section; Maryland State Judge William D. Missouri, of the ABA Judicial Division; Andrea Sheridan Ordin of the ABA Standing Committee on Judicial Independence; A. Vic Rawl of the ABA Young Lawyers Division; and Neal R. Sonnett of the ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities.

The _ is the largest voluntary professional membership association in the world. With more than 405,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.

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