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July 21, 2010

"House can reduce powder cocaine vs. crack sentencing disparity"

The title of this post is the headline of this editorial from today's Washington Post urging the House of Representatives to take steps to pass the compromise reform of federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws that got Senate approval way back in March.  Here are excerpts:

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 brings fairness and sanity to this 20-year saga [concerning crack/powder sentencing disparity].  The bill, which the House is expected to take up soon, eliminates a mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession -- an important achievement in and of itself.  An offender would have to be convicted of peddling 28 grams or more of crack to be hit with a five-year mandatory sentence.  A 10-year prison term would be handed down for 280 grams or more.  The disparity between crack and powder would be reduced -- from the current 100:1 to roughly 18:1 -- but not eliminated. This is an important acknowledgment that crack, because of its addictive properties and its ability to quickly destroy the user's health, is different from powder cocaine and deserves reasonably tougher penalties.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that shorter periods of incarceration would save the federal prison system some $42 million over five years.  This is a small amount of money, but it is a welcome consequence of restoring a modicum of fairness to a broken part of the criminal justice system.

The bill has garnered support from Republican and conservative leaders such as Asa Hutchinson, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, as well as from members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.  The Senate unanimously passed the measure in the spring. It is time for the House to embrace it as well.

That this bill managed to get through the Senate unanimously in March and yet still sits unaddressed by the House serves as another useful reminder of how hard it is for politicians on both sides of the aisle to place good policy ahead of good politics in the development of criminal justice reforms.  I remain hopeful that this bill will become law before too long, but the delay to date has only deepened my cynicism about the problematic unwillingness of many current members of Congress (as well as many current members of the Obama Administration) to make sensible and needed criminal justice reform a legislative priority.

Some related posts from when the Senate passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010:

July 21, 2010 at 05:35 PM | Permalink


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This would save a ton of money. But its an election yr like you say.

Good Time Days:
Reinstatement of good times days are needed in the federal system. Congressman Danny Davis from Ill., has sponsored bill HR 1475, but I don’t know if it’s moving forward. Please support this. Currently 85% has to be served, HR 1475 would reduce this to 65%. Federal facilities are approximately 40% overcrowded. Reversing years of ever-harsher sentencing policies, jurisdictions throughout the United States are trying to cut costs by expanding good time credit, increasing parole eligibility, and authorizing new forms of early release. I would think that the federal system needs this as well.
Extended days / total inmates, = 8.33days avg days/month/inmate
8.33 * 12 months = 99.96 or 100 days/year/inmate avg.

Financial Impact: $26,000 annually / inmate. $26,000 / 365 = $71/day.

Currently 15% or 54 days Vs 100 days aggregate avg proposed.
100 – 54 = 46 days more/yr. 46 * $71/day/inmate = $3266/annually savings/inmate.
$3266 * 189,068 inmates = $617,496,088 saved annually.

There is a difference between being “Tough” on crime and “Unreasonable”. Excessive
sentences with little good time, breeds distrust of law enforcement and contributes
to overcrowding. Overcrowding is why the prisons are dangerous…. Give them an incentive for good behavior and things will improve.

Posted by: Abe | Jul 22, 2010 10:02:10 AM

This is another interesting item I find enlightening...

Ratio of psuedo/ephedrine to Meth is 5 to 1. That is ridiculous. Psuedo converts to 10 kg of marihuana and meth converts to 2 kg. Crystal is 20 k. Meth is to whites as crack is to blacks. Need an immediate retroactive 2 level drop for Meth offenders..

Posted by: Abe | Jul 22, 2010 10:10:45 AM

The reduction of the disparity is good, but what we are overlooking is the fact that without cocaine there will be no crack cocaine. Cocaine is a predominately wealthy person's drug where crack is considered a poor man's drug. If you have frogs and have a problem with snakes common sense dictates get rid of the frogs and the snakes will look for food elsewhere. I'm a CJ student and sit back and watch poor blacks spend years in prison for distribution of crack while the rich white sit back and snort basically free powder because they made more money off the sale of some of the powder that is used to produce the crack. This needs to be eliminated rock or powder should carry the same penalty.

Posted by: paul mitchell | Jul 23, 2010 1:13:43 PM

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