March 18, 2010


So slightly fewer less black defendants will go to prison for possession of crack, while white cocaine users continue to slip away under a much higher standard. Are we supposed to applaud?

WASHINGTON — Legislation approved by the Senate on Wednesday would significantly reduce the disparity in sentences handed out to those convicted of crack and powder cocaine.

Currently, a person convicted of crack cocaine possession gets the same mandatory jail time as someone with 100 times the same quantity of powder cocaine. That 100-1 ratio has been particularly hard on the black community, where convictions on federal crack laws are more prevalent.

Under the measure, approved by a voice vote, the ratio would be reduced to 18-1.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who worked out the legislation with Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, said he had initially wanted a straight 1-to-1 ratio, but that the final product was a good bipartisan compromise.

Jeralyn from TalkLeft:

This sucks. It takes 500 grams of powder to trigger a 5 year mandatory minimum penalty. Under current law, it takes 5 grams of crack. Now, 28 grams of crack will do the trick. So an ounce of crack will carry the same penalty as almost a pound of crack (500 grams is 1/2 kilo, a kilo is 2.2 pounds.) And 280 grams of crack (10 ounces) will trigger the 10 year mandatory minimum penalty while 5 kilos of powder are required.

Worst of all, the bill is not retroactive and the reduction won't help anyone who has already been sentenced.

[...] The unfair law has been in effect for 24 years. 75,000 people have been sentenced under it. Today, once again, the politics of compromise triumphed over principle, fairness and justice.

Congress and President Obama do not get to say they "fixed the problem." This bill doesn't fix the problem, it only reduces it.

The bill is here. It now goes to the House.

All we needed was a bill that eliminated the words "cocaine base" from the federal criminal code and eliminated the mandatory minimum penalty for mere possession. The House Judiciary Committee passed such a bill, Bobby Scott's H.R. 3245, last July. The Senate refused to follow suit.

Instead, we get another crime bill with increased penalties and no equalization of crack and powder penalties. While the reduction is an improvement, the bill is a big disappointment and the lack of retroactive application is inexcusable.

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