The Fair Sentencing Act is on its Way to the President!
The Fair Sentencing Act passed in the House today, and since it already passed in the Senate back in March, it will now go to President Obama for his signature. This historic legislation will reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing, and also direct federal resources toward large-scale drug traffickers. The 100-to-1 sentencing ratio was instituted in 1986, in large part to combat the scourge of violence accompanied by crack cocaine usage in some of our nation’s largest cities, and instead has unduly targeted low-level crack offenders: before today’s changes, a person with five grams of crack received a mandatory sentence of five years in prison, while that same person would have to possess 500 grams of powder cocaine to earn the same penalty. The 100-to-1 ratio perpetuated racial disparities as well, as more than 80% of crack offenders serving prison sentences are African American.
Ultimately we would like to eliminate the disparity entirely, but a bipartisan compromise to reduce the ratio to 18-to-1 and eliminate the five year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of five grams of cocaine (about two sugar cubes worth) was struck. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, overall, the bill is expected to reduce the federal prison population by 3,800 in 10 years and save an estimated $42 million in criminal justice system spending over the first five years. It is clear that passage of the Fair Sentencing Act is an enormous victory in the realm of civil rights, criminal justice and drug policy reform, and I for one cannot wait for it to bear Obama’s signature.