Cocaine: Connecticut House Passes Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Disparities 5/13/05

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The Connecticut House of Representatives Tuesday passed a bill that would eliminate sentencing disparities between powder cocaine and crack cocaine offenses. On a vote of 92-52, the House endorsed HB 6635, which would eliminate the disparity in the amount of crack versus powder cocaine that would trigger a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.

The bill, which had 19 cosponsors in the House, was pushed primarily by legislators representing inner city districts where crack is more prevalent than powder cocaine. Under current law, someone selling a half-gram of crack is subject to the mandatory minimum, while someone must sell an ounce of powder cocaine to garner the same penalty. Unlike legislation moving in some other states, such as South Carolina, or what is sometimes discussed as a "fix" for federal sentencing disparities, the Connecticut bill does not lower the amount of powder cocaine needed to trigger the mandatory minimums, but instead raises the amount of crack that triggers the five-year sentence to one ounce, the same amount as powder cocaine.

The measure now goes to the state Senate. If passed there and enacted into law, it would go into effect October 1.

Rep. Michael Lawlor (D-East Haven) said the sentencing disparity is leading to prisons filled with minority offenders. Citing state corrections department statistics, Lawlor told his colleagues 72% of adult inmates and 82% of juvenile inmates are black or Hispanic. "This is apparently driven in large part by drug offenders," he said.

"Our jails are filled with young men and women. We need a solution," said Rep. Douglas McCrory (D-Hartford), one of the bill's sponsors. "People say we're being soft on crime. I don't think so," he said. "If you walk out this building and walk a mile up the street, you'll see people going to jail every single day because we're tough on crime."

Connecticut leads the nation in racial disparities in prisons, said Robert Brooks, executive director of A Better Way Foundation, which lobbies the state legislature on a variety of drug reform issues. "This is a clear message we want to reverse that," he told the Associated Press after Tuesday's vote.

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Issue #386 -- 5/13/05

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