June 22, 2021

Durbin Questions Witnesses at Hearing on Federal Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

WASHINGTON – During today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled, “Examining Federal Sentencing for Crack and Powder Cocaine,”  U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Regina LaBelle, Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, whether there is any scientific basis for the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine.  Durbin’s Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 dramatically reduced this crack-powder disparity – from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 – resulting in thousands of incarcerated individuals being released early without any increase in recidivism.  However, the disparity continues to disproportionately impact African-Americans, without any apparent public safety benefit.

“From a scientific perspective, is there any justification to reducing the sentencing disparity [instead of simply eliminating it]?” Durbin asked.  “If there’s no science between the difference, then the sentencing is dramatically different.”

LaBelle stated that crack cocaine and powder cocaine are nearly identical, scientifically speaking. During her testimony, LaBelle said the Biden Administration supports Durbin’s bipartisan Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act, which he introduced alongside Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).  The legislation would eliminate the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and ensure that those who were convicted can petition for resentencing under the new law.

Durbin then asked Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) to discuss how the crack-powder disparity has affected African American communities in Arkansas. 

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your candor about the impact this has on respect for the law in some communities when African Americans are disproportionally penalized for this sentencing disparity – what it must mean to the community. Have you seen this firsthand as Governor of your state or in your previous assignments?” Durbin asked.  

Governor Hutchinson answered by stating that he has seen within all of his public service roles how unfairness undermines respect for the law.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

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