January 28, 2021

Durbin, Booker Announce Legislation to Eliminate Federal Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

Eliminating A Quantifiably Unjust Application Of The Law (EQUAL) Act Will Finally Put A Stop To A Sentencing Disparity That Has Disproportionately Impacted Black Americans For Decades

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), incoming Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee,announced legislation that will finally eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and apply it retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced. 

After the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses vastly differed.  For instance, until 2010, someone caught distributing five grams of crack cocaine served the same five-year prison sentence as someone caught distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine.  Over the years, this 100:1 sentencing disparity has been widely criticized as lacking scientific justification.  Furthermore, the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity has disproportionately impacted people of color.

The Fair Sentencing Act, introduced by Durbin, passed in 2010 during the Obama Administration and reduced the sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1.  In 2018, Durbin and Booker were instrumental in crafting the First Step Act, which made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. 

“The crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity disproportionally impacts people of color, with 81 percent of those convicted of federal crack offenses from 2015 to 2019 being Black.  I was proud to author the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, a bipartisan compromise which significantly reduced the disparity. We need to end this injustice once and for all by eliminating the crack-powder disparity, as my original bill would have done,” Durbin said.  “I’m proud to join Senator Booker in introducing the EQUAL Act to get rid of this discriminatory sentencing disparity for good.”

For over three decades, unjust, baseless and unscientific sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine have contributed to the explosion of mass incarceration in the United States and disproportionately impacted poor people, Black and Brown people, and people fighting mental illness,” Booker said. “At a time of expanding awareness of the realities of our unjust drug laws and growing consensus for changing them, I encourage my colleagues to support the EQUAL Act as a necessary step in repairing our broken criminal justice system.” 

The Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act would eliminate the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and ensure that those who were convicted or sentenced for a federal offense involving cocaine can receive a re-sentencing under the new law.

The full text of the legislation can be viewed here.

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