Thursday, November 1, 2007

Crack is whack. So are federally-mandated minimums.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I've bitched and moaned on this blog before about the disparity in how statutory penalties are doled out to blacks and whites. One major issue that I've studied and opposed since my debate team days in high school is the sentencing differences between the possession of crack cocaine (the prototypically ghetto black drug - see: Bobby and Whitney) and powdered cocaine (the prototypically white fashionable drug - see: Lindsay Lohen).

It's called the 100:1 ruling - 100 times as much powdered cocaine for one part of crack cocaine. I hate this dumb ass law now and I'm sure I would've hated it 21 years ago when it was created. I know you're thinking, 'Well, just stay away from drugs and you won't have any trouble", right?

I wish it were that simple.

Think about it. Tyrone, Leroy and June Bug weren't just sitting around the house in the 1980's and remembered they had that old Bunsen burner in the basement, decided to forgo their usual bump to create crack. Crack had to come from somewhere and it didn't come from the hood. I don't really feel like explaining my thoughts on how crack entered the black community. I'm not up to heading down that road right now, but you get the point.

In keeping with my reputation of being fair and balanced, I have to mention when the right thing is done. I'll give credit when credit is due. The US Sentencing Committee - with little to no fanfare - reduced its recommendation for crack-related offenses. This represents a huge hurdle in legal parity and equity. The playing field is finally being equaled.

Somewhere (in between puffs) Whitney Houston and Marion Berry are breathing collective sighs of relief.

You're probably thinking, 'What's the big deal?' Lemme tell you why I'm mad, son. I'ma tell you why I'm mad. Crack cocaine, if you can believe it, is the only drug that carries a federally-mandated minimum sentence for simple possession. If you get caught with it, then you go to jail. No questions asked. Funny how the historically black drug gets the significantly harsher penalty...I digress.

What's even more laughable is that the sentence for simple crack possession is the same as providing material support for Al Qaeda. In fact, possession of five grams of crack, roughly the equivalent of five Splenda packets, gets you five years in prison. The same amount of powdered cocaine usually gets you probation. Why the difference? In my mind, the answer is black and white.

Last year, more than 80 percent of federal crack defendants were black. Only 9 percent were white. Essentially, if a crack possessor had been convicted of the exact same crime but with powder cocaine, their sentence would be five and a half years shorter. Five and a half years.

The whole thrust of the war on drugs has been described by many as a war on African Americans. Blacks are much more likely to be arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated for drug offenses than whites, far out of proportion to the extent they're involved in the drug trade.

Back in the 1980s, crack was considered an epidemic, more dangerous and addictive than powdered cocaine. Sentences for crack were tougher. Medical research shows crack and powder are pharmaceutically the same with the same effects. So starting today, sentences for crack defendants will be shorter, on average, by 15 months. What does this mean to you?

In two weeks there will be another hearing to talk about whether to change that and if the new guidelines do become retroactive, nearly 20,000 inmates could petition for an early release. I crunched the numbers. It costs about $25,000 a year to keep somebody in federal prison, add it up, that's $475 million saved in taxpayer money.

Kudos to the folks at US Sentencing for making this change. When the government fails us, I often share it here. I'm ecstatic when they actually get it right.


Michael said...

Great post.

Cocoa Rican said...

...or it could be said that we'll have, potentially, 20,000 former inmates on our city streets without jobs, putting our children at risk and putting a rise on our crime rates. I agree that sentences for ALL drugs should be equal across the board, but I agree that they should be harsh and serve to discourage the use, sale and possession of the same and/or keep those who can't help themselves out of the communities of working society. SAY NO TO DRUGS OR SAY YES TO LOCKDOWN.

bLaQ~n~MiLD said...

Thank you CoCoa. I only agree that the sentences should be equally harsh. As for the release of 20,000 former inmates thing...ummmmm? When shyt hits the fan and they potentially have trouble re-immersing themselves back into society, these individuals could potentially resort to crime and or drugs to cope.

Otherwise a great post Mr_Jones.


Mr. Jones said...

Former inmates are released into the streets daily. You do a crime, you do the time and eventually you get out. That's just how it goes. Some have trouble acclimating (see the recent spike in violent crime in the US...that's due in part to the baby boomer criminals being released now) and some don't. No one seems to be up in arms about that.

The 20K number is just the number of people convicted (at least in part) under the 100:1 rule. A lack of a retroactive provision is the only thing preventing this number from swelling to 60K. There's no reason not to at least hear these appeals. We, as taxpayers, shouldn't be paying for inmates if we don't have to.

One Man’s Opinion said...

I just have one thing to say....Whitney never did "crack", Damn it! She said it and I believe it. It's a poor man's drug for pete-sakes. Other than that, I am feeling you...But you best be keeping Whitney's name out your mouth and you blog, brotherman. I ain't playing. LOL

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