Sunday, December 16, 2007

Finally, Some Relief for Double-Standard, Racist, and Insane Drug Sentencing for Baking Soda

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday (December 10) said judges may impose shorter prison terms for crack cocaine crimes, enhancing judicial discretion to reduce the disparity between sentences for crack and cocaine powder.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously Tuesday (December 11) to allow some 19,500 federal prison inmates, most of them black, to seek reductions in their crack cocaine sentences.

Four of every five crack defendants is black. Most powder cocaine convictions involve whites.

Even after the change, prison terms for crack cocaine still are two to five times longer on average than sentences for powder cocaine, the result of a 20-year-old decision by Congress to treat crack more harshly.

See previous CD posts
here and here. Note that crack cocaine is powdered cocaine + baking soda.

2 Comments:

At 12/17/2007 10:16 AM, Anonymous scott cunningham said...

Giving different sentences to the two drugs was a form of statistical discrimination, and probably not Beckerian discrimination. Powder cocaine did not have nearly the social costs associated with it that crack did. The explosion of crime, STDs, and other bad child outcomes in the mid-to-late 1980s were almost purely the direct cause of the crack epidemic.

On the other hand, I think we now know that locking up basically 12% of the entire Black male population (33% if just look at the high school graduates and less) did very little to lower those external costs. Mass imprisonment of the Black male population may have reduced crime, though, via incapacitation, but it may also have created new vectors for STD transmission via marital disruption and inter-prison transmission. Ultimately, the only policy mechanism to decrease crack cocaine usage (and really all drug usage) is through higher prices, and most things I've seen suggests that it's been very difficult to effectively do that with supply-side interdictions with this particular drug. The DEA was partially successful at doing it with meth in 1995 and 1997 via regulation of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, but that was temporary and now no longer looks like it's even feasible since the market for meth production and distribution has changed so much.

 
At 12/17/2007 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly agree that the two different types of sentences was wrong, and should be corrected.
However, wasn't this a legislative decision, and therefore why is the Supreme Court saying that this is unconstitutional? Don't we have 3 branches of govt, or are the 9 folks in robes our royalty now?

 

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