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Sentencing: Obama Administration Tells Congress to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity

In a break with the Bush administration, Justice Department officials called Wednesday for the first time for Congress to pass legislation that would undo the vast disparities in sentences for those convicted of crack and powder cocaine possession offenses. For years, drug reformers, civil rights groups, and even the US Sentencing Commission have called for the disparities to be undone, saying they have had a racially disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) opens the hearing
Under federal sentencing laws adopted in the midst of the crack hysteria of the 1980s, it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to generate a mandatory minimum five-year federal prison sentence, but only five grams of crack to generate the same sentence. Historically, blacks have accounted for more than 80% of all federal crack convictions, with whites accounting for less than 10%.

Competing bills have been introduced to eliminate or reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences, but in previous years they have not gotten far. With the administration now behind eliminating the disparity, this year could be different.

Justice Department Criminal Division Chief Lanny Breuer told a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee Wednesday that the administration supported bills that would equalize punishments for crack and powder cocaine offenses. The disparity should be "completely eliminated," he said.

"Now is the time for us to reexamine federal cocaine sentencing policy, from the perspective of both fundamental fairness and safety," Breuer told the Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs. He added that a Justice Department panel is reviewing a broad range of criminal justice topics, including sentencing reforms.

It's about time, said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), the Senate majority whip, citing the racially disproportionate crack conviction figures. "These racial disparities profoundly undermine trust in our criminal justice system and have a deeply corrosive effect on the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities," Durbin said.

US District Judge Reggie Walton, representing the Judicial Conference, also addressed the committee. The crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity is "one of the most important issues confronting the criminal justice system today," he said. "No one can appreciate the agony of having to enforce a law that one believes to be fundamentally unfair to individuals who look like me," said the judge, who is black.

Sentencing reform advocacy groups were also on hand for the hearing. Mary Price, vice president and general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) told the subcommittee the sentencing disparity has a discriminatory impact on blacks, including people like FAMM client Eugenia Jennings, now serving a 20-year prison sentence for twice trading small amounts of crack for designer clothes.

"This hearing gives new hope to thousands who have loved ones serving harsh sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses," Price said.

Even former DEA head and enthusiastic drug warrior Asa Hutchinson had little good to say about the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. "When significant numbers of African Americans on the street question the fairness of our criminal justice system, then it becomes more difficult for the officer on the street to do his or her duty under the law," Hutchinson said.

A number of bills have been filed in both the House and the Senate to address the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Now, the fight will be to ensure that eliminating the disparity means reducing crack sentences, not increasing powder ones.

Click here to view archived video of the hearing.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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What a funny concept... equality under the law!

What are those crackheads thinking... equality under the law?

Equality, how's that possible with uber ass-holes like Joe Biden still in power... instead of prison?

Gotta LOL when criminals like Asa Hutchinson question the fairness of our criminal justice system and suggest that law enforcement has sullied itself... with relligious and political crap!

Even heard the former drug war whore barry macafferty say he doesn't care if 'a 45 year old guy grows some pot... for personal use" he's 'only interested in saving the children'... what pricks.

Are you serious?

Your opinion will never matter in this world. You sound as if you are either an alcoholic or on drugs yourself. The use of profanity to get ur point across......hmmmm sounds like a junkie to me. Try it again when your high comes down.
Surely you dont think anyone will ever value your opinion.
If you arent an addict, your mother must have been b/c she sure missed out on teaching you some manners. Or maybe your father was an alcoholic who cursed like a sailor. So sad... Either way you will never matter in this world when you have to get your opinion across by bashing others!

...........Are you serious?

Have you never been on the receiving end of the vulgar, abusive comments of the "average" commenter on the Internet? A thinking Internet user cannot equate the use of this type of vulgar, abusive language with alcoholics or drug addicts, only. There are, likely, plenty of non-drug users (alcohol is a drug), who get on the Internet and act like gutter trash. Like the dis-inhibiting affect of alcohol, the ability to hide behind the monitor gives lots of people the courage to act and converse inappropriately.

What you don't need to do is get all high and mighty when you respond with just as caustic a comment, minus the vulgar words. I guess your self righteous bashing is OK? What a hypocritical response you made!

As much as you want to say it, this person's opinion will matter if he takes time to vote his conscious.

Firstly, the people he's bashing deserve it

Secondly, he has the unalienable right to say whatever he pleases, cussing and all.

I'm not averse to using profanity, myself, to get my point across, either, and have done so repeatedly over the years. My parents didn't swear much (and when they did, the words they used were pretty mild -- dammit, hell, sonofabitch -- usually only when they slammed a finger in the door or something and sometimes when angry), but I do swear, it's part and parcel of the era in which I matured and the words I use are not as mild as my parents, fuck is one of my favorite words and I use it in many ways -- an example of those different uses:

Btw, I'm not an addict of any drug except nicotine (and I often wonder about that, since I can go on vacation with my daughter for 9 days without so much as a single drag off a cigarette and never miss smoking), tho I do use a few of the others -- aspirin, acid, antihistamine caffeine, ibuprofin, XTC; and a number of herbs including ashwagangha, astragalus, basil, bay leaf, cannabis, cinnamon and cumin to name just a few.

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

Is Biden a racist?

When you consider Biden was instrumental in getting the law that slapped cocaine users on the hand while crack users go straight to jail and followed that up with his comment about Obama being the first clean bright articulate African american it's hard to not see his racism.
How sheltered of a life has he lived where he had never met a bright clean African American before Obama.


Actually, the sentencing guidelines were proposed to end disparities in sentencing. It was (and still is) the Mandatory
Minimum Restrictions ushered in under Reagan (along with the Orwellian "Truth in Sentencing" limitations) that spawned the gulagesque Prison Industrial Complex we have now. Joe Biden has been working with Families Against Mandatory Minimums for decades.

Equality UNDER LAW....

Okay, are u serious? This disparity has NOTHING to do with CRACK HEADS...It targets crack distributers. U seriously need to get your facts straight...Ur whole comment made you look so stupid. You should be focusing on violent acts such as MURDER instead of non-violent one's like selling crack! If you wanna focus on something, try focusing on why the boys who shot and killed my brother only received 7 years in prison; on the other hand, a family member of mine received 20 years for having 4 grams of crack cocaine...Where's the justice in that? If you want something to talk or complain about, talk about that!

If the reports below are

If the reports below are true, when will Obama's actions begin to square with his rhetoric? In his book, THE CASE AGAINST BARRACK OBAMA , David Freddoso reports that Obama demonstrated his commitment to old-style politics by his repeated endorsements of Chicago's machine politicians, and refused to support reformers from both parties in the 2006 election who were committed to ending corruption in Chicago's Cook County government.

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