One of the most glaring injustices in US drug policy is the infamous crack/powder sentencing disparity, in which possession of a mere five grams of crack cocaine draws a five-year mandatory minimum sentence under federal law. It takes 100 times as much powder cocaine, 500 grams, to get the same sentence. The law has been applied in a racially disparate fashion since it was enacted 23 years ago, but reform efforts have mostly stalled.
Please call your US Representative and your two US Senators to urge their strongest possible support for the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act. The number for the Capitol Switchboard and your legislators is (202) 224-3121, or click here to look them up online. Whether you call today or not, please use our online form at this web page to email your Rep. and Senators too.
Visit the Crack the Disparity Coalition for further information about this issue and campaign. Following are some talking points from the Coalition to help with your call or to learn more:
Please support and cosponsor H.R. 3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. This legislation will:
- Restore federal law enforcement priorities. When Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and 1988, the intended targets of mandatory minimums were "serious" and "major" traffickers. In practice, the law failed to live up to its promise. Mandatory penalties for crack cocaine offenses have been applied most often to individuals who are low-level participants in the drug trade, who comprise more than 60% of federal crack defendants.
- Save federal tax dollars and ease prison overcrowding. The Federal Bureau of Prisons estimates it costs $25,895 a year to house each prisoner. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, eliminating the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine would reduce the prison population by over 13,000 in 10 years.
- Counter the perception of unfairness in the criminal justice system. African Americans account for 81.8% of defendants sentenced to federal prison for crack cocaine offenses. Crack cocaine sentences average 37 months longer than sentences for powder cocaine. This disparity has contributed to a damaging perception of race-based unfairness in our criminal justice system.
- Treat two forms of the same drug the same. Crack cocaine is pharmacologically the same as powder cocaine. Myths about crack cocaine, that have been dispelled since the sentencing law was passed 23 years ago, contributed to these out of proportion penalties.
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