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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Wade Henderson Urges Congress to Fix Disparate Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing in Politico

July 23, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Wade Henderson

In an column in today's issue of Politico, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, urged Congress to equalize the federal sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

"Most Americans want to enforce tough laws against big-time drug dealers, and rightly so. But discriminatory laws do nothing to protect young people against dangerous drugs, diminish respect for the legal system and exacerbate the racial and economic inequalities that are fraying our social fabric," said Henderson.

Under current law, people convicted of possessing five grams of crack, the size of two sugar packets, will receive a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.  To get the same penalty for powder cocaine, a person would have to possess 500 grams of powder -100 times the amount of crack - despite the fact that the drugs are pharmacologically the same.  More than 80 percent of the defendants in federal crack prosecutions are African American, and the law has convicted more low-level offenders than the so-called drug kingpins it was designed to capture.

Yesterday, a House subcommittee unanimously approved a bill (H.R. 3245) sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., that will equalize the federal sentences for crack and cocaine by requiring at least 500 grams of either kind of cocaine to trigger the mandatory minimum sentence of five years of prison time. A companion bill with bipartisan support is expected to be introduced soon in the Senate.

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