Recently Attorney General Merrick Garland announced changes to end disparities in the federal crack cocaine sentencing guidelines. These laws, passed during the “war on drugs” years, sent thousands of people to prison for using crack cocaine while sentencing laws for powder cocaine use were not changed.
For decades federal law has imposed harsher sentences for crack cocaine even though it isn’t scientifically different from powder cocaine, creating “unwarranted racial disparities,” Garland wrote in a memo Friday to federal prosecutors. “They are two forms of the same drug, with powder readily convertible into crack cocaine.”
The result of the sentencing law changes, passed in the 1980s, was that thousands of people of color went to prison for using crack cocaine. These laws disproportionally targeted people of color. After the 1980’s law, prosecutors treated a single gram of crack the same as 100 grams of powder cocaine. Congress shrunk that gap in 2010 but did not completely close it. A bill to legislatively end the disparity passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate. The changes announced by the Attorney General are temporary and legislation is needed to make the changes permanent.
NAATP supports these sentencing law changes and urges Congress to make them permanent through legislation. We encourage Congress and law enforcement to recognize that addiction is a disease and should be treated accordingly, with treatment and support services provided to all in need of care.