Now 18 to 1

In The Black Man on July 30, 2010 at 6:20 am

On Wednesday Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act; a measure that’s intended to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine convictions. According to the Washington Post, “the measure changes a 1986 law, enacted at a time when crack cocaine use was rampant and considered a particularly violent drug. Under the law, a person convicted of crack cocaine possession got the same mandatory prison term as someone with 100 times the same amount of powder cocaine. The new legislation reduces that ratio to about 18 to 1.” Additionally, the new law rids the five year mandatory minimum sentence for “first-time possession of crack.”

President Obama is anticipated to sign the new law, which now imposes a mandatory five-year minimum sentence on those convicted of possessing 28 grams of crack rather than five grams of crack. In a show of bipartisanship, cosponsors Democrat Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, “said nearly 1,500 people were convicted last year for possession of five to 25 grams of crack cocaine, subjecting them to mandatory minimum sentences.”

According to the Human Rights Watch, minorities have been most affected by the minimum five-year sentence with “Blacks…constitut[ing] the preponderance of federal crack cocaine offenders since the 100-1 differential was enacted, despite the fact that more whites used crack. In Fiscal Year 2008, 79.8 percent of federal defendants sentenced for crack cocaine offenses were black. But, according to federal drug use surveys, 27 percent of crack cocaine users were black and 65 percent were white. The disproportionate number of black drug offenders sentenced for crack cocaine offenses helps explain the far longer average sentence lengths for all black federal drug offenders: 111.5 months compared to 73.5 months.”

Republican Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, believes the change in sentencing guidelines could open the door to a crack epidemic in minority communities much like that of the 1980s. “Why do we want to risk another surge of addiction and violence by reducing penalties? Why are we coddling some of the most dangerous drug traffickers in America?”

The change in the sentencing guidelines according to a Congressional Budget Office report is projected to save the federal prisons some $42 million over the course of the next five years.


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