US Sentencing Commission urges Congress to Reduce Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

Press Release May 16, 2007
Media Contact

Jasmine Tyler at 202-294-8292

Washington, DC–Criminal justice experts will hold briefings on the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity for Congressional staffers on Monday, May 21. They will discuss the United States Sentencing Commission’s (USSC) May 2007 Guideline Amendment and Report to Congress. Joining the panel will be Hilary Shelton from the NAACP, Pat Nolan from Prison Fellowship, and Lisa Rich from the USSC. These briefings will be moderated by Jessalyn McCurdy of the ACLU and Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project. The briefing is co-sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance.


WHAT: Reforming Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Briefing for Congressional staffers

WHO: Members of Congress and staff, media, policy advocates, stakeholders, treatment providers, faith leaders

When: Monday, May 21

House Briefing: 9 a.m. – B340 Rayburn House Office Building

Senate Briefing: 2 p.m. – 485 Russell Senate Office Building


Twenty years ago when the crack cocaine sentencing laws were first passed by Congress, the United States faced a panic about the alleged “crack epidemic” and operated under the impression that crack had inherent properties that made it infinitely more dangerous than powder cocaine. These reports, which served as the basis for the huge disparity, have since been found to be fundamentally flawed, rendering the 100-to-1 disparity arbitrary and capricious. Further, these laws have proven ineffective in reducing drug use or distribution and have instead exacerbated racial disparity and injustices in our criminal justice system.

The USSC has taken the lead on eliminating the crack/powder sentencing disparity by amending the federal sentencing guidelines to lessen the punishment range for crack cocaine cases by approximately one to two years. The Commission also urged Congress to reform federal mandatory minimum sentences to reduce the statutory disparity. Currently, there is growing bipartisan support for reforming the crack/powder disparity. There are two house bills pending and a similar one before the Senate.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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