From The Grio — In August of 2010, President Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which lowered the sentencing disparity from a 100:1 to 18:1 ratio of powder cocaine to crack cocaine (based on the number of grams in possession). The law was considered by many to be a significant step toward equity in sentencing. However, for some, the law didn’t go far enough — it would only affect decisions moving forward, leaving those who were previously convicted of crack offenses to live with their sentences unchanged.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission is now considering whether to retroactively apply the law to previously convicted inmates — a change that may reduce the sentences of approximately 12,000 people convicted of crack offenses by an average of three years. This is a change that the Department of Justice may appear to support.
In his testimony to the commission yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, “as years of experience and study have shown, there is simply no just or logical reason why their punishments should be dramatically more severe than those of other cocaine offenders.”
Civil Rights advocates agree.
“Over the last 30 years, America has pursued a one size fits all, incarceration-focused strategy to drug addiction that has resulted in the largest prison population in the world,” NAACP Criminal Justice Director Robert Rooks told TheGrio.
There is no question that crack has taken a tremendous toll on our communities and families. Our communities have been disproportionately ravaged by the effects of crack cocaine, and by the violence and incarceration that surround its distribution. Still, there has been no scientific evidence to support the belief that crack is more dangerous and addictive than powder cocaine.
Yet, since the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of the 1980s, our nation’s sentencing policy has reflected this notion — resulting in a nine-fold increase between 1985 and 2006 in the number of federal inmates who were incarcerated for drug offenses. According to the Sentencing Project, one in eight black males in his twenties is in prison; and overall, despite data that show drug use among black people as only slightly higher and drug use among Latinos as slightly lower than their white counterparts, people of color represent the majority of all people in prison for drug offenses.
The War on Drugs, which was marked by punitive and mandatory drug sentencing provisions, has also produced significant increases in the incarceration rates among women of color. For black women, there was a staggering 828 percent increase in imprisonment rates between 1986 and 1991, largely as a result of harsh mandatory sentences.