Sunday, May 3, 2009

How to Fix the Crack Sentencing Laws

After more than two decades of disproportionately harsh federal crack cocaine sentences, it seems the political stars finally may be aligned to correct this glaring disparity in the nation's sentencing laws. We hope Congress will move expeditiously on the matter.

Last week, a senior Justice Department official urged lawmakers to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for sale and and possession of crack cocaine to mirror those for powder cocaine.

Back in the 1980s, when crack cocaine was a scary new drug, concerned lawmakers passed harsh mandatory minimum penalties for crack.

The sentences were far more stringent than those for powder cocaine, which is the same drug in a different form.

The disparity has come to be known as the "100-to-1" ratio. Possession of five grams of crack mandates a five-year prison sentence, but it takes possession of 100 times as much powder cocaine to get the same sentence.

The singling out of crack cocaine for extraordinarily harsh penalties has resulted in many more African-Americans going to prison for long terms. That's because crack is a cheaper form of cocaine more prevalently used by African-Americans in low-income, inner-city neighborhoods.


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