Washington, DC –
U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today praised the committee for unanimously moving forward legislation that will significantly reduce the inequity in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine, helping to correct
an enormous racial disparity in our criminal justice system. Senator Cardin is an original cosponsor of the bill,
the Fair Sentencing Act,
and has worked closely on this issue with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL).
“The American drug epidemic is a serious problem that we must address, but our drug laws must be smart, fair and rational. The current law disproportionately affects minorities and has contributed to the enormous growth in the prison population,”
said Senator Cardin.
“The very credibility of our federal criminal justice system is at stake.
According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, fixing this disparity would dramatically improve the fairness of federal sentencing.
Today, about 30 percent of the crack users are estimated to be African Americans, but 82 percent of the convictions are African Americans.
“Resources – scarce dollars – available to our criminal justice system also are on the line. The U.S. Sentencing Commission says that fixing this disparity could save a half a billion dollars over the next 15 years. That’s money we could use to better enforce our laws and clean up other problems we know exist. Moving forward on this legislation is fiscally prudent as well as a better administration of justice.
“While I am disappointed that we can’t entirely eliminate the disparity, I want to congratulate Senator Durbin and Senator Session for giving us a way to move forward on this important issue.”
African Americans make up 15% of all drug users in the U.S., but make up 74% of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense. African Americans also receive longer prison terms for drug offenses. In 2002, the average prison term of 105 months for African Americans was 69% longer than the average of 62 months for whites.
Under current law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine (roughly the weight of two sugar cubes) triggers a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, while trafficking 500 grams (approximately one pound) of powder cocaine triggers the same sentence. The so-called 100:1 sentencing disparity has been in place since 1986. The
Fair Sentencing Act
would reduce the disparity to 18:1.