A first-time crack-cocaine conviction should mean a lower federal minimum sentence than under current guidelines, the U.S. Sentencing Commission again is recommending. The Associated Press says the panel voted last Friday to lower the recommended sentencing range for those caught with 5 grams or more of crack cocaine from between 63 and 78 months to a range of 51 months to 63 months. Those with at least 50 grams should serve 97 months to 121 months in prison, not 121 months to 151 months, the commission urged. At issue is a 1986 federal law that includes what critics have called the 100-to-1 disparity: Trafficking in 5 grams of crack carries a mandatory five-year prison sentence; it takes 500 grams of cocaine powder to warrant the same sentence.
This is the fourth time the commission has recommended that Congress narrow the sentencing gap. Previous proposals, which were not adopted, have included raising the penalties for powder cocaine and lowering them for crack. “While this incremental change is a far cry from the ‘equalization’ of crack and powder cocaine the Commission recommended in 1995, it is a long overdue first step to improving crack sentences,” said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a national nonpartisan sentencing reform organization.