The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which will at last narrow the divide between prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine busts, is on its way to President Obama’s desk today. The Senate passed the bill in March, and today the House gave it approval, thus ending an ugly sentencing disparity that’s existed for almost a quarter of a century.
Twenty-four years ago, at the height of America’s crack epidemic, Congress enacted legislation that saw persons convicted of possessing crack receive prison sentences equal to persons possessing 100 times that amount in powder cocaine. This was problematic for many reasons, the most glaring being that African Americans possessing crack went to jail in droves while white defendants, who more often dabbled in expensive powder cocaine, escaped without prison bids. After the Senate passed the bill in March, Attorney General Eric Holder commented, “There is no law enforcement or sentencing rationale for the current disparity between crack and cocaine powder offenses.”
Unfortunately, today’s vote makes the ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences 18-to-1—still not perfectly equal. But it’s a step, and a bipartisan one at that. Six Republicans co-sponsored the bill, including Lindsay Graham and Orrin Hatch.
Here’s Dick Durban’s statement:
“Drug use is a serious problem in America and we need tough legislation to combat it. But in addition to being tough, our drug laws must be smart and fair. Our current cocaine laws are not. The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has contributed to the imprisonment of African Americans at six times the rate of whites and to the United States’ position as the world’s leader in incarcerations. Congress has talked about addressing this injustice for long enough; it’s time for us to act.”