Erica Zunkel and Nathaniel Berry, ’24, Write About New Sentencing Commission Guidelines

First Step Act advanced prison reform, but hundreds are still serving unjust sentences

As advocates representing poor people convicted of federal crimes, the overwhelming majority of whom are Black and Brown men, we have seen the ease with which harsh mandatory minimum sentences have become part of our criminal system.

For example, in 2008 at a federal courthouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana, our client Dion Walker received a mandatory life sentence for selling cocaine to a government informant. Because Walker had two prior convictions for nonviolent drug offenses, the judge had no choice but to sentence him to life in prison.

Highly controversial, this “three strikes” law represents the darkest excesses of our “tough on crime” approach to federal drug offenses.

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