Bill aims to close sentencing gap between crack and cocaine

Politics

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The Senate Judiciary Committee examined the Equal Act Tuesday, a bill that would make federal sentencing of crack and cocaine the same.

Democrats argue the sentencing gap must be closed once and for all to correct decades of injustice in communities of color.

“One of the most indefensible disparities in our system of justice,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.

Durbin says it’s time for Congress to fix decades of injustice by making the federal sentencing of crack the same as powdered cocaine.

“Black Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned on drug charges than white Americans,” Durbin said. “It has no basis in science, it’s done nothing to make us safer.”

In 2009 Congress passed a plan to drastically reduce the sentencing gap, but the change did little to fix racial disparities.

“It’s time to finish the job,” said Matthew Charles, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for crack possession before he was released early.

“There are a lot of people like me who committed to making changes and finding a new path and who do not need to spend decades in prison to learn their lesson,” Charles said.

On Tuesday the Biden administration backed the plan to make sentencing equal for both drugs.

Some Republicans remain wary of taking that step.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says he’s concerned crack offenders still pose a greater threat to public safety.

“I do have questions about how to best do this,” Grassley said. “There are discrepancies between crack and powder cocaine in terms of recidivism rates, addiction and violent crime.”

But the Republican governor of Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson — who has already amended crack and cocaine laws in his state — pushed back.

“The substances are chemically the same and therefore should be treated the same for sentencing purposes. It’s a fundamental principle,” Hutchinson said.

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