April 28, 2022

Senators Introduce Bill to Reduce Crack-Powder Sentencing Disparity, Protect Communities from Criminals Most Likely to Reoffend

WASHINGTON – Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) today introduced the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act, which will reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders tried in federal courts. The legislation aims to make sentencing fairer while also preserving the ability of courts to keep those most likely to reoffend off the street.  
 
I’ve worked on this issue for many years. I cosponsored the 2010 legislation led by Senators Durbin and Sessions to reduce the disparity in sentencing from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1. It’s high time to do more to address this important issue and make our criminal code more just and fair. Our legislation will significantly reduce this disparity while ensuring those more likely to reoffend face appropriate penalties. Powder cocaine is being trafficked across the border in historic volumes, so we also need to take precautions that ensure these traffickers also face justice for spreading poison through our communities,” Grassley said.  
 
“In the past few years we have seen a huge increase in the amount of drugs being trafficked across our Southern border, especially cocaine. Not only is this bill an important step towards fairer sentencing of crack cocaine offenders, it will also give law enforcement officers more tools to fight drug trafficking,” Lee said. 
 
“Sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine have been a problem for some time,” Wicker said. “We need to be able to resolve those disparities while still punishing the cartels and drug networks that severely impact American families and communities. I am glad to join Senator Grassley on this well-designed legislation to improve the fairness, transparency, and effectiveness of our drug laws.” 
 
This sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders has had a disparate impact on communities of color across the country. Reducing this disparate impact is critical, but must be thoughtfully enacted to prevent likely reoffenders from returning to communities just to violate the law again.  
 
Separate legislation has been introduced in the Senate to completely flatten the differences between sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. This approach does not account for the differences in recidivism rates associated with the two types of cocaine offenses. According to a January 2022 analysis from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), crack cocaine offenders recidivate at the highest rate of any drug type at 60.8 percent, while powder cocaine offenders recidivate at the lowest rate of any drug type at 43.8 percent. Raising additional public safety concerns, USSC data reveals that crack cocaine offenders were the most likely among all drug offenders to carry deadly weapons during offenses. These statistics show the need for a close look at all available government data before we consider an approach to flatten sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses. 
 
The SMART [Start Making Adjustments and Require Transparency in] Cocaine Sentencing Act will reduce the current crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 18:1 to 2.5:1. It reduces the volume required to trigger 5-year mandatory minimum sentences for powder cocaine from 500 grams to 400 grams, and from 5 kilograms to 4 kilograms for 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. For crack cocaine, the volume triggering a 5-year mandatory sentence is increased from 28 grams to 160 grams; the volume for the 10-year mandatory sentence is lifted from 280 grams to 1,600 grams.  
 
Critically, the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act also requires an attorney general review and certification process for any retroactive sentencing adjustments. It provides for new federal research from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the lethality and addictiveness of these substances as well as what violence is associated with cocaine-related crimes. The legislation also requires a new report from the USSC on crack and powder cocaine offenses, including data on recidivism rates.  
 
Senator Grassley highlighted the need for a critical and updated government review during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on cocaine sentencing in June of 2021. Senator Grassley has repeatedly requested this information from the government as some available reports that should inform these policies are decades old. This bill requires the government to provide Congress with updated information. Such insight will be instrumental in informing Congress on how to legislate on this complicated and important issue. 
 
Full legislative text of the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act can be found HERE 
 
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