Today, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act of 2010, which will address a glaring oversight in the Fair Sentencing Act, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and signed into law earlier this year. The Durbin bill greatly reduced the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, from 100:1 to 18:1, but it does not provide relief to individuals who were serving time for crack cocaine prior to the bill’s enactment.
“The lack of retroactive relief in the Fair Sentencing Act means that thousands of people who were incarcerated for extraordinarily long periods of time for crack law violations before the law was changed are still required to serve their full sentence,” said Jasmine L. Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “I constantly receive calls from family members, many in tears, asking how they can help get their loved one home soon. Passing this legislation would help reunite families.”
Prior to the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, possession of five grams of crack cocaine (similar to the weight of a couple of sugar packets) would trigger a five-year federal mandatory minimum sentence. To receive this same punishment for cocaine in powder form, an individual would have to possess 500 grams, despite the pharmacological similarities between the two substances. Four-fifths of those incarcerated in federal prisons for crack cocaine convictions are black, despite the fact that whites and Latinos make up two-thirds of crack cocaine users.
“This unfair sentencing structure meant that individuals convicted on crack cocaine charges served exorbitantly long sentences – and African Americans have disproportionately borne the brunt of the punishment,” said Tyler. “It is time to bring home those unfairly languishing behind bars and save taxpayer money by passing this much needed legislation.”