WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE) joined Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Crime and Drugs Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter (D-PA), and six other Senators, to introduce legislation that will eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act would refocus scarce federal resources toward large scale, violent traffickers and increase penalties for the worst drug offenders.
“The huge disparity in sentencing under today’s law is unfair and unwarranted,” said Sen. Kaufman. “It has the effect of treating less affluent, largely minority offenders much more harshly than their white, often more affluent counterparts, without any scientific or practical justification. The unfairness strikes at the heart of our criminal justice system. Correcting this problem is long overdue, and by doing so we can help restore public faith that our drug laws are not only tough but also fair.”
According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, restoring sentencing parity would do more than any other policy change to close the gap in incarceration rates between African Americans and whites. The Obama Administration endorsed eliminating the sentencing disparity at a hearing in April.
“Drug use is a serious problem in America and we need tough legislation to combat it. But in addition to being tough, our drug laws must be smart and fair. Our current cocaine laws are not,” Durbin said. “The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has contributed to the imprisonment of African Americans at six times the rate of whites and to the United States’ position as the world’s leader in incarcerations. Congress has talked about addressing this injustice for long enough; it’s time for us to act.”
Under current law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine (roughly the weight of two sugar cubes) triggers a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, while trafficking 500 grams (approximately one pound) of powder cocaine triggers the same sentence. The so-called 100:1 sentencing disparity has been in place since 1986. The Fair Sentencing Act would eliminate the disparity, treating crack and powder cocaine equally.
“Today, the criminal justice system has unfair and biased cocaine penalties that undermine the Constitution’s promise of equal treatment for all Americans. To have faith in our system Americans must have confidence that the laws of this country, including our drug laws, are fair and administered fairly,” Chairman