The NAACP is thanking Congress and the president for a new law President Barack Obama signed Tuesday that will reduce the gap between federal mandatory sentences for convictions for crack cocaine and the drug in powder form.
The NAACP said the gap unfairly hurts communities of color.
The Fair Sentencing Act eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence for possession of crack cocaine and increases monetary penalties of drug traffickers, according to a White House statement.
“I think that demonstrates the, as I said, the glaring nature of what these penalties had — the glaring nature of what these penalties had done to people and how unfair they were. And I think the President was proud to sign that into law,” said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in his daily press briefing Tuesday.
The new law is not retroactive and only applies to federal arrests, but advocates say the measure is a start.
“The NAACP supports this bill as an important first step in completely eradicating these types of legislative injustices,” the association said in a statement. “However, we will continue to push for complete elimination of the disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentencing.”
The act changes a 1986 measure that mandated a person with five grams of crack received a mandatory five-year sentence in prison, while a person would have to possess to possess 500 grams of powder cocaine to earn the same sentence, according to an article written by Jasmine Taylor, Deputy Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
“The 100-1 ratio has caused myriad problems, including perpetuating racial disparities, wasting taxpayer money, and targeting low-level offenders instead of dangerous criminals. African Americans comprise 82 percent of those convicted for federal crack cocaine offenses but only 30 percent of crack users, and 62 percent of people convicted for crack offenses were low-level sellers or lookouts,” Tyler wrote.
The bill is a compromise that lowers the 100-to-1 disparity to 18-to-1, Tyler said, and eliminated the five-year mandatory sentence. The law is expected to reduce the federal prison population and save about $42 million in criminal justice spending over the first five years, she added.
Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times