If you're caught with five grams of crack cocaine, you get a mandatory five-year prison sentence. To get the same sentence for possession of powdered cocaine, you'd have to have 500 grams of the stuff. Clearly there's a disparity, one that tends to harshly punish lower-income, mostly African-American crack users, as opposed to the typically more affluent coke users.
It's a difference people have been talking about changing for years, but the Justice Department is finally pushing a recommendation that the disparity in sentencing be completely eliminated.
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From the Washington Post:
Newly appointed Criminal Division chief Lanny A. Breuer told a
Senate Judiciary Committee panel this morning that the Obama
administration would support bills to equalize punishment for offenders
accused of possessing the drug in either form, fulfilling one of the
president's campaign pledges.
Breuer explicitly called on Congress to act this term to "completely eliminate" the sentencing disparity.
For his part, Miami Police Chief John Timoney would support the measure, and called the current laws an "unmitigated disaster."
Instead of focusing on hard prison time for users, the Obama administration would shift resources to treatment, counseling, and job training for recovered addicts.