Congress is headed toward adjournment without acting on what is widely viewed as an indefensible sentencing disparity between federal drug offenses involving crack and powder cocaine, the Associated Press reports. Democrats and Republicans have been locked in a stalemate for more than a decade over the proper fix. Federal sentencing laws often sends black, inner-city defendants to prison for more than a decade over quantities of crack that would get far shorter sentence for powder-cocaine offenders.
Under the law, passed during the crack epidemic of the 1980s, trafficking in 5 grams of crack cocaine calls for a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence. The same sentence for powder cocaine requires 500 grams. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Al.) would increase the amount of crack triggering the five-year sentence from 5 grams to 20 grams. The bill would lower the quantities of powder cocaine warranting such sentences. Law enforcement groups and the Justice Department argue that stiffer penalties for crack are warranted because of the drug’s strong connection with violent crime in poor neighborhoods. “There’s violence associated with both, but the nature of the way crack cocaine is retailed lends it to a higher degree of local street violence than powder cocaine does,” said Jim Pasco of the national Fraternal Order of Police,