Senate Rejects Equal Sentences for Crack and Powder Cocaine
The Senate is moving closer to reducing the disparity between jail times for cocaine and crack, but is not ready yet to equalize punishments altogether. The issue is a sensitive one because, according to recent statistics, African-Americans account for approximately 82% of arrests for crack, but only 27% of cocaine accounts. Under current federal law, someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine gets the same sentence as another person arrested for possession of just five grams of crack. This 100 to 1 disparity has long been criticized by criminal justice reformers, who are hoping Congress and the Obama administration will be open to changing minimum sentencing laws.
Last week, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ilinois), who has advocated for sentencing equality, was forced to negotiate a deal with Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) that would lower the 100 to 1 disparity to 20 to 1. Durbin admitted the compromise was not what he sought, but still represented progress. “My position is for one to one, equity and equality in sentencing, but in order to get things done you have to be prepared to make mutual concessions,” Durbin told The American Prospect. “That’s what we have done.”
The legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now goes to the full Senate for a floor vote.
Monday, March 15, 2010
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