The Often Ignored Voice of Incarcerated Women during Women’s History Month
Date:  03-10-2014

The history of the war on drugs and mandatory minimum sentences plays a huge role in destroying the lives of many women
A dark part of the history of the failed War on Drugs was the passage of the “crack cocaine laws” which punished people convicted of a drug crime involving crack cocaine far more harshly than people convicted of a crime involving powder cocaine. Most of the time that the war on drugs is mentioned the topic focuses on males, but women were swept up, too. One of those women is Therese Crepeau. (Full disclosure, Beatrice Codianni, the Managing Editor of Reentry Central met Therese in 1995 when Therese was 24 years old and an inmate at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution. A beautiful, intelligent young woman at that time, Therese is now 43 years old.) Therese's friend told Reentry Central that Therese regrets the mistake she made that led her to prison. She also regrets that she will never be able to give birth to a child because of the harsh sentence she received.

The following letter was intended for the Senate Judiciary Committee to read. Although circumstances prevented it from being read as of yet, Reentry Central was sent a copy of it by a friend of Therese. We chose to publish it in the hope that legislators will vote to make drug reform laws retroactive for all, or that the president will recognize the grave injustice done to Therese, and those like her, and will offer clemency.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month we might reflect on the often ignored history of incarcerated women. Therese Crepeau offers a firsthand look at the destructive powers of the war on drugs and mandatory minimum sentences. Readers might ask: Was her long sentence justified? Is it worth the expense to taxpayers? Will keeping her in prison make the world safer? How can we make sure future sentences fit the crime?

George Santayana said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

These are Therese’s words:

In 2008, the average sentence for federal crack cocaine drug offenders was 114.5 months, compared with an average sentence of 91 months for federal powder cocaine offenders. New legislation reduced the ratio to 18-to-1. The act also eliminated the current mandatory minimum five-year sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine, which is the only federal mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of a drug, even by a first-time offender.

When the Crack Cocaine Laws were reformed in 2008, almost 12,000 federal prisoners were eligible to ask the Courts for a sentence reduction. Despite the concerns of "tough on crime" proponents like Senator Grassley, the crime rate did not surge to all-time highs. After the enactment of the Fair Sentencing ACT (FSA) and the release of over 7,000 federal prisoners, the nation's crime rate is the lowest it's been since the 1950's.

Although it is true that early releases mean prisoners will be out sooner, Sen. Grassley's statement that "the deterrent effect of imprisonment will be reduced" seems to contradict his own admission that, "crime rates are now at their lowest level in 50 years." Concerns about violent drug offenders with violent crime histories are valid, but should not overshadow the reality that those without past histories of violence are receiving sentences as lengthy and severe as those with histories of violent crime.

Public outcry has been directed towards the draconian mandatory minimum sentencing that judges are often compelled by unjust laws to impose, even in instances where such lengthy sentences do not serve the interests of justice or the need for rehabilitation. But what about those federal inmates who have fallen through the cracks of the recent sentencing reform trend? Those that were given severely long sentences, but weren't sentenced under a mandatory minimum? Those first-time offenders with no violent crimes that received their sentences under the guidelines before the effect of those severely harsh sentences were realized or acknowledged by the courts or congress?

My name is Therese Crepeau. I was convicted of a cocaine/crack conspiracy in 1994. My conviction called for a sentence of 135 months. Plus 60 months consecutive for a gun charge. At sentencing, by a "preponderance of the evidence," I was held accountable for 1238 kg of cocaine and crack instead of the "in excess of 5 kg" I was convicted of. Instead of 195 months, I was sentenced to a monstrous 420 months; that is 30 years for the conspiracy and a consecutive 5 years for the gun charge, more than double the 16 yr 3 mo sentence my conviction demanded. Thirteen years after I was sentenced, Derrick Kimbrough, whose conviction was identical to my own, was given the 180 month mandatory minimum sentence his conviction demanded, rather than the 228-270 months the prosecutor was shooting for. For Kimbrough, justice won the day.

Since I was sentenced, especially after Apprendi v. NJ was decided in the Supreme Court, cases have been decided and laws have been passed that help to ameliorate the grave injustices that people like me were subjected to, ironically enough, in the name of justice. And yet, few of those changes have had any effect on the sentences of people like me because of something known as "retroactive application."

Without disparaging the court system or congress, or even detracting in any way from the progress they have made in sentencing reform, I wonder how it is possible for a reasonable person to say something is unconstitutional, but follow that up with, "it's not retroactive." How is it possible to say, "We realize this is unconstitutional and will amend our actions now and in future proceedings," then say in the next breath, "Oh, but it's too late for you, the damage is done." I applaud those who realize that change is necessary and are taking steps to right those wrongs, but in so doing, do not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear on those who have fallen through the cracks.

Written by:

Therese Crepeau #04858-032

Dublin FCI Camp