Bill Would Make Crack and Powder Penalties Even. In 2010, Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Bobby Scott pushed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 through the Senate and House and onto President Obama’s desk shortly before Republicans took control of the House.
The legislation was signed into law on August 3, 2010 and narrowed the sentencing penalty between crack and powder cocaine from 1:100 to 1:18.
The difference in sentencing had long been noted as a key reason why blacks were going to jail much longer than whites for cocaine related offenses. Crack, a cheaper form of cocaine, was primarily used and trafficked by Blacks while powder cocaine was primarily trafficked and used by whites.
The old federal crack cocaine law also carried the only mandatory minimum penalty for simple possession — 5 years in prison.
Because of the Fair Sentencing Act that mandatory minimum is gone. The original crack cocaine disparity was signed into law 28 years ago during the Reagan Administration.
On July 24, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), is now going a step further — one that and offering the Senate version of a bill that will bring the crack/powder cocaine sentencing to 1:1. Why there was a difference in the penalties has long been an open question. Sen. Paul’s bill is one of several bi-partisan justice reform bills that mirror ideas liberal Democrats have been proposing for over three decades.
Rep. Scott’s original Fair Sentencing Act bill made the penalties for crack and powder the same but members of the Senate were against the penalties being equal and 1:18 resulted.
After years of spending $63 billion per year on locking people up and paying $29,000 per prisoner to doso, a growing number of Democrats and Republicans are agreeing on justice reform. Last week Reps. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) offered the House version of the REDEEM Act which was offered by Sens. Paul and Cory Booker (D-NJ) offered on justice reform two weeks earlier.
Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) poverty plan also includes two justice reform bills by Democrats.
Sen. Paul’s bill making crack penalties the same as powder cocaine penalties, S.2657, would also change low level felonies to misdemeanors. Felony records are a big reason for recidivism as formerly incarcerated people are barred from most employment.