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Black convicted offenders are the racial group least likely to earn relief from mandatory minimum sentences for assisting the government, according to a major study of mandatory minimum penalties by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. In a 645-page report to Congress, the Commission said almost half (46.7 percent) of all offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty were relieved from the application of the penalty at sentencing for assisting the government, qualifying for “safety valve” relief or both. But black offenders received relief from a mandatory minimum penalty least often (in 34.9 percent of their cases), compared to white (46.5 percent), Hispanic (55.7 percent) and other race (58.9 percent) offenders. “In particular, Black offenders qualified for relief under the safety valve at the lowest rate of any other racial group (11.1%), compared to White (26.7%), Hispanic (42.8%) and Other Race (36.6%), either because of their criminal history or the involvement of a dangerous weapon in connection with the offense,” said the report. Under the guidelines, safety valve relief allows a low-level, nonviolent, first offender to be sentenced below the statutory minimum. “While there is a spectrum of views on the Commission regarding mandatory minimum penalties, the Commission unanimously believes that certain mandatory minimum penalties apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently across the country,” said Commission Chairwoman Judge Patti Saris in a statement. “The Commission continues to believe that a strong and effective guideline system best serves the purposes of sentencing established by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.” The report recommends that Congress reassess certain statutory recidivist provisions for drug offenses and tailor the “safety valve” relief mechanism to other low-level, nonviolent offenders convicted of other offenses carrying mandatory minimum penalties. It also recommends that Congress examine and re-evaluate the “stacking” of mandatory minimum penalties for certain federal firearms offenses. Penalties for those offenses can be excessively severe and unjust, particularly in circumstances in which there is no physical harm or threat of physical harm, according to the report. The Commission’s study is its first since its 1991 study of mandatory minimums. The Commission reviewed 73,239 cases from fiscal year 2010 as well as its data sets from previous fiscal years to conduct the data analyses in the report and support the findings and conclusions. Among other key findings: • More than 27 percent of offenders included in the pool were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. • More than 75 percent of those offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty were convicted of a drug trafficking offense. • Hispanic offenders accounted for the largest group (38.3 percent) of offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, followed by black offenders (31.5 percent), white offenders (27.4 percent), and other race offenders (2.7 percent). • Offenders subject to a mandatory minimum penalty at sentencing received an average sentence of 139 months, compared to an average sentence of 63 months for those offenders who received relief from a mandatory minimum penalty. • 14.5 percent of all federal offenders remained subject to (meaning they received no relief from) a mandatory minimum at sentencing. • Just over 39 percent of offenders in the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons were subject to a mandatory minimum penalty at sentencing. While the number of offenders subject to a mandatory minimum penalty at sentencing has increased, the proportion of those offenders to others in federal custody has remained stable during the past 20 years. Marcia Coyle can be contacted at [email protected]

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