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December 30, 2007

Continued crack coverage ... but to what effect?

Valuably, the US Sentencing Commission recent work lowering the crack guidelines sentencing ranges and the Supreme Court's Kimbrough decision continue to generate media stories about the inequities in federal drug sentencing.  This AP article, for example, spotlights the continued 100-to-1 ratio reflected in crack and powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentencing terms even though, according to Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is "no scientific justification to support the current laws."   

Similarly, this morning's Los Angeles Times has this lengthy article headlined "Chipping at tough crack sentencing: Laws were ineffective and the drug's ravages overblown, experts say."  The piece does a very effective job documenting the history crack-powder sentencing disparities, but then note the political problems that have continued to impede significant reform:

"I thought, 10 years ago, as the [crack] issue lost its prominence, one would see more rational decision-making," said Peter Reuter, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and co-director of the drug policy research center at RAND. Instead, he said, "the issue lost its saliency," and "politicians lost interest."...

Despite relaxation of the guidelines, people caught with crack cocaine still will face long prison terms. Congress so far has refused to retreat from the "mandatory minimum" laws that require prison terms of at least five years for possession of crack cocaine.

But some lawmakers have been pressing for change. Calling it "a terrible flaw in the criminal justice system," Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), a Democratic presidential candidate, proposes eliminating the 100-to-1 disparity between powder and crack cocaine. Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) and Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) have introduced similar bills in the House. Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) -- have proposed raising the amount of crack cocaine that would trigger a mandatory prison term.

But none of these proposals has won approval from the judiciary committees of the House or Senate. Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor of public policy and a drug policy expert, said: "Nobody [in Congress] wants to go home and explain why they let the crack dealers out of prison."

December 30, 2007 at 08:32 AM | Permalink

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