First time in 40 Years Mandatory Drug Sentence Repealed
The Open Society Policy Center praised Congress for passing "The Fair Sentencing Act" on Wednesday, dramatically reducing the disparity in powder and crack cocaine sentencing from the egregious 100:1 ratio to 18:1.

July 30, 2010

Washington, D.C., July 30, 2010 – The Open Society Policy Center praised Congress for passing “The Fair Sentencing Act” on Wednesday, dramatically reducing the disparity in powder and crack cocaine sentencing from the egregious 100:1 ratio to 18:1. This long-standing disparity perpetuated racial discrimination and misdirected federal law enforcement resources from large-scale traffickers to those minimally involved.

Until now, individuals who possessed or distributed five grams of crack cocaine received the same five year sentence as one who sold 500 grams of powder cocaine. The disparity started 24 years ago when little was known about crack other than unsubstantiated fears that this derivative form of cocaine significantly threatened public health and greatly increased drug-related violence. Since then, documentation and analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, criminologists, and medical researchers have revealed that many of these concerns were unsubstantiated by data and were exaggerated or simply incorrect.

Although the complete elimination of the crack and powder sentencing disparity was not achieved, the new 18:1 ratio will bring relief to about 3,000 cases a year, reduce the typical crack sentence by nearly 30 months, and save the federal government $42 million over the next five years. The bill also eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence for possession of crack cocaine- the first time in 40 years that a mandatory sentence for drug use has been repealed. Now, the penalty for possession of crack cocaine will be more in line with sentences for powder cocaine and other drugs.

Passage of the Fair Sentencing Act is a major legislative accomplishment and a rare bipartisan achievement. The legislation garnered widespread support from civil rights and criminal justice groups, the White House, and Justice Department, law enforcement and prosecutors, and political and religious conservatives.

“This victory in drug sentencing reform is extraordinary; advocates have been fighting for nearly two decades to eliminate the egregious disparity between crack and powder cocaine,” said Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for civil and ciminal justice reform, Open Society Policy Center. “We have significantly ‘cracked the disparity’ with unprecedented bipartisan support and will continue the critical work to achieve a fair and just criminal justice system.”

The Open Society Policy Center led “Crack the Disparity,” a coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, religious, and legal organizations including the Sentencing Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Bar Association, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the NAACP, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, United Methodist Church, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, the United Church of Christ, the National Council of Churches, the Religious Action Center, the Mennonite Central Committee, and the National Association of Social Workers. The coalition also coalesced with political and faith conservative organizations, including Prison Fellowship, and with law enforcement groups and impacted people.

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