Testimony of Kemba Smith before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: March 3, 2006

Rickie Solinger, Paula C. Johnson, Martha L. Raimon, Tina Reynolds and Ruby C. Tapia

in Interrupted Life

Published by University of California Press

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9780520252493
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944565 | DOI:
Testimony of Kemba Smith before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: March 3, 2006

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The testimony of Kemba Smith, who had never handled, used, or sold any drugs when she was sentenced as a first-time non-violent drug offender to almost twenty-five years in prison, defines the contours of “the girlfriend problem.” This chapter presents Smith's testimony before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Three days before Christmas 2000, President Bill Clinton commuted Smith's sentence of 24.5 years for [a] drug conspiracy charge. If Clinton had not done so, Smith would still be in federal prison, to be there until the year 2016. If her parents had not waged a campaign in the news media, in the churches, and among the criminal justice reform community, she would not have been freed from prison to raise her eleven-year-old son. In her testimony, Smith laments that some federal drug sentencing laws disproportionately affect people of color like her. When the U.S. Congress created the mandatory minimum sentences and collateral consequences for drug offenses, they may not have been acting with the intent to inflict special punishment upon people of color, but that has unquestionably been the effect.

Keywords: Kemba Smith; testimony; drug conspiracy; girlfriend problem; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; people of color; drug sentencing laws; mandatory minimum sentences; collateral consequences; drug offenses

Chapter.  1654 words. 

Subjects: Gender and Sexuality

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