Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama Administration Aims to End Sentencing Disparity for Crack and Powder Cocaine

Right now, if you have a little crack, you go to prison for a long time. It takes 100 times more powder cocaine to get the same jail time.
The Obama administration is also focused on lesser sentences and more treatment, which is exactly what's needed. We can't continue to throw people in jail for drug addictions.
The Obama administration joined a federal judge Wednesday in urging Congress to end a racial disparity by equalizing prison sentences for dealing and using crack versus powdered cocaine.

"Jails are loaded with people who look like me," U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, an African-American, told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said the administration believes Congress' goal "should be to completely eliminate the disparity" between the two forms of cocaine. "A growing number of citizens view it as fundamentally unfair," Breuer testified.

It takes 100 times more powdered cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger the same harsh mandatory minimum sentences.

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, said, "Under current law, mere possession of five grams of crack — the weight of five packets of sweetener — carries the same sentence as distribution of half a kilogram of powder or 500 packets of sweetener."

Durbin said more than 81 percent of those convicted for crack offenses in 2007 were African-American, although only about 25 percent of crack cocaine users are African Americans.

Congress enacted the disparity during an epidemic of crack cocaine in the 1980s, but the senator said lawmakers erred in assuming that violence would be greater among those using crack. Read the rest at MSNBC
Now, the number of white people going to jail for drugs is on the rise and the number of black people going to jail for drugs is shrinking but there still are a disproportionate number of black people sentenced than white people:
For the first time since crack cocaine sparked a war on drugs 20 years ago, the number of black Americans in state prisons for drug offenses has fallen sharply, while the number of white prisoners convicted for drug crimes has increased, according to a report released yesterday.

The D.C.-based Sentencing Project reported that the number of black inmates in state prisons for drug offenses had fallen from 145,000 in 1999 to 113,500 in 2005, a 22 percent decline. In that period, the number of white drug offenders rose steadily, from about 50,000 to more than 72,000, a 43 percent increase. The number of Latino drug offenders was virtually unchanged at about 51,000.
It looks as though meth could be the cause for the increase in drug sentencing for white people:
African American drug offenders, who have been convicted most often for dealing and possessing crack cocaine, still made up a disproportionate share of drug offenders in state prisons, 45 percent in 2005. That was down from nearly 58 percent in 1999. Black Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population.

The number of white drug offenders in state prisons rose from 20 percent to 29 percent, and Latino prisoners made up 20 percent of such inmates.

"I have no doubt that crystal meth explains some of the white increase, but I'm not ready to say it's the reason for all of the white increase," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which opposes stiff penalties for nonviolent drug crimes. "It's also hard to imagine that [drug courts] are not having some effect. Most drug courts are in urban areas where African Americans live." Read the whole story at WaPo