The Washington Post is calling on the House to agree with the Senate and reduce penalties for federal crack cocaine violations. In an editorial, the Post says the mandatory prison terms adopted in the 1980s were “too tough and counterproductive.” Possession of five grams of crack cocaine — the weight of two pennies — trigger a mandatory minimum sentence of five years; possession of 50 grams of crack callefor a 10-year mandatory minimum. Defendants arrested on powder cocaine charges would face similar penalties only if they were caught with 100 times those amounts.
The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 “brings fairness and sanity to this 20-year saga,” says the Post. (The saga actually is closer to 25 years). The bill approved by the Senate eliminates a mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession. The crack-powder disparity would be reduced from the current 100:1 to roughly 18:1 but not eliminated. The Post calls that “an important acknowledgment that crack, because of its addictive properties and its ability to quickly destroy the user’s health, is different from powder cocaine and deserves reasonably tougher penalties.” The Congressional Budget Office estimates that shorter periods of incarceration would save the federal prison system some $42 million over five years.