Friday, March 12, 2010

Senate Committee Approves Bill That Eliminates Cocaine Sentencing Disparities

Today the United States Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would eliminate the sentencing disparities that exist between powder cocaine and crack cocaine.  The Fair Sentencing Act, sponsored by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, would increase the amount of crack cocaine needed to impose a mandatory trafficking prison term and eliminate the mandatory five year prison sentence for possession of crack cocaine.  In July of 2009, the House Judiciary Committee approved a similar bill.  The sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine has been the subject of much scrutiny and much criticism.  Crack cocaine offenders are more likely to be minorities whereas powder cocaine offenders are more likely to be Caucasian.   Yet, under current Federal Sentencing Guidelines, crack cocaine offenders are punished much more severely than powder cocaine offenders.  This fact has given rise to calls of racism.  Attorney General, Eric Holder, has called for Congress to remedy this disparity.  In 2008, roughly 3,000 inmates had their sentences reduced because of a retroactive change to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  The fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill tells you something about how obvious the disparity is for a unanimous vote to be made under the current political climate.

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