Justice Department Moves to Equalize Cocaine Sentencing For All Races

Friday, May 01, 2009

The federal government may finally be moving towards eliminating the unequal sentencing in U.S. drug laws that punish users of crack more than cocaine. Key government and judicial officials testified at a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the disparity in federal mandatory sentencing for crack users has unfairly targeted African Americans since the 1980s, when the so-called “crack laws” were first installed.

Following on President Barack Obama’s call during the 2008 campaign for changes in drug laws, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said a “growing number of citizens view it as fundamentally unfair” to make crack users caught possessing five grams of the drug to serve the same amount of prison time as those busted for holding 500 grams of cocaine. Breuer was joined by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, an African-American, who said, “Jails are loaded with people who look like me.”
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), who chairs the subcommittee on crime and drugs, noted that in 2007, 82% of people convicted on crack possession charges were black, and 9% were white.
The push from the Obama administration is expected to improve the chances of drug reforms being passed by Congress, following earlier unsuccessful attempts by both Democrats and Republicans to equalize sentences between cocaine and crack offenders.
-Noel Brinkerhoff


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