Calif. Equalizes Prison Sentencing for Crack and Cocaine Drug Crimes

Crack cocaine seized during a drug raid by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
Crack cocaine seized during a drug raid by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Attorney General Eric Holder is probably smiling at this news.

Critics of the criminal-justice system often call on the federal government to fix the prison-sentencing disparities that exist between black and white defendants convicted of drug crimes, but last week California showed that states have the power to correct that kind of racial discrimination, too.


According to an Al-Jazeera report, the state’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed the California Fair Sentencing Act that will equalize the amount of years in prison both crack and cocaine drug users receive when convicted. 

The legislation was introduced and authored by Democratic State Sen. Holly Mitchell, an African-American legislator who is also chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

“We must break the drug-driven cycle of arrest, lockup, unemployability and rearrest,” Mitchell said in a statement. “The law isn’t supposed to be a pipeline that disproportionately channels the young, urban and unemployed into jail and joblessness.”

In a previous statement Mitchell said, “Whether sold as crack or powder, used on the street or in a corporate penthouse, the penalty for cocaine use should be the same for everybody.”

The California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union co-sponsored the bill and is encouraging other states to follow California’s lead. It points out “that 12 other states have laws that have sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine,” Al-Jazeera reported.

“By signing the California Fair Sentencing Act … Gov. Brown has chosen a more equitable criminal-justice system over failed, racially unjust drug-war policies,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, a senior policy advocate with the ACLU of California.


The feds, however, have also done their part to equalize the sentencing playing field, the report explains.

President Barack Obama has “commuted a number of individual drug sentences” during his tenure thus far, and Holder’s Justice Department launched a “large-scale effort” in April to pardon thousands of nonviolent drug offenders who received bloated prison sentences.


Read more at Al-Jazeera.