Sunday, March 21, 2010

From 100-1 to 18-1: Improved Disparity for Double-Standard, Racist, Minimum Drug Sentencing?

"Last week by voice vote, the Senate unanimously approved a measure to reduce the infamous 100-1 disparity in federal mandatory minimum prison sentences for possession of crack versus powder cocaine. The new, improved disparity would be 18-1.

If the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, authored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., becomes law, there will be a five-year mandatory minimum prison term for 28 grams of crack cocaine -- instead of 5 grams today -- while the amount of powder cocaine that triggers five years would remain 500 grams (see top chart above, data here).

There is no logical reason for the sentence disparity. Whether in crack or powder form, it's still cocaine. But about 4 in 5 federal crack offenders are black (see bottom chart above). Last year, Asa Hutchinson, who was head of the Drug Enforcement Administration under President George W. Bush, righteously testified that the "disparate racial impact" of the cocaine-powder disparity undermines "the integrity of our judicial system.""

MP: Debra Saunders is exactly correct that there is nothing logical or sensible about the huge sentence disparity, it's nonsensical hysteria that is part of an insane War on Drugs. Keep in mind that crack cocaine is made by adding baking soda to powder cocaine, so that's a lot of extra jail time for a little Arm and Hammer.

Well, it now looks like there's a possibility that some sanity might actually prevail in Congress. No, let me rephrase that. There's a distinct possibility that the amount of insanity might be significantly lowered. If the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009 passes, it will lower the sentencing disparity from 100-1 to 18-1, which is an improvement, but still nothing close to parity or true fairness. Only in politics would a remaining sentencing disparity of 18-1 be called "fair," but I guess it's a step in the right direction.

Nobel economist Milton Friedman once called the minimum wage "the most anti-black law on the books," but I now disagree - the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is the most anti-black law on the books, for its huge and disproportionate effect on blacks.


At 3/21/2010 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crack and Coke are two very different things. If they were not, than no one would assume the risk of creating and selling Crack. While both are cocaine, Crack - the freebased derivative - is far more addictive. It gives a quicker and more intense high followed by a sudden and deeply depressive crash. Crack addicts will do almost anything to escape the ensuing depression and return to the drug induced euphoria. Crack use is associated with increased crime rates in a way that the use of powdered cocaine is not. It's users are not able to maintain a job or care for children. It's abuse is also associated with higher mortality. The penalties for Crack use reflect these realities and are not the result of some racist plot against blacks, who are themselves more often the victims of Crack related crime and violence. Why not show us those statistics?

At 3/21/2010 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would it be "fair" to design a prison sentence based on the amount of crime or violence caused instead of the weight of the drug? If so, am I more likely to be a victim from the illegal crack trade or illegal powder cocaine trade?

If the answer is the crack trade, I guess we have to determine the fundamental reason for imprisoning a person. Since we have given up on prison being a rehabilitation endeavor because that is too costly, we have to determine if prisons’ purpose is to punish the guilty or to protect the innocent. If it is to protect the innocent and crack cocaine causes more crime or violence, then, the sentencing disparity can be deemed "fair." If it is to punish the criminal, then, it might be deemed "unfair," but how much does the average citizen really care about treating convicted criminals fairly?

At 3/21/2010 3:10 PM, Anonymous Ian Random said...

OMG, I kind of agree with Walty. I better jump off a bridge. Do we want to incarcerate violent or non-violent criminals more? I think everything should be skewed toward the degree that violence is associated. For instance, if caught with absolutely nothing other than drugs confiscation should be used with weekly hand and blood drugs tests. I also wish some sort of shame is applied like a long lasting henna tattoo on the face or a spray painted car. Anyone caught with drugs and any sort of weapon, then the mandatory minimums apply.

At 3/21/2010 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are essentially borrowing an argument of the left to make your point. Specifically, lefties love to claim that if the end results are unequal then therefore the system is unfair or somehow biased.

The reality is that crack and powder cocaine are not the same thing. Crack is more potent, concentrated and addictive than powdered cocaine. I know something about this as I have a relative who started with the powder before descending into crack. Trust me - crack is far more ruinous. Dont believe the absurd, Al Sharpton-like, grievance mongers. The disparate legal treatment of the two forms of cocaine has a logical, real reason and is simply not based in some racist conspiracy.

At 3/23/2010 11:21 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> If so, am I more likely to be a victim from the illegal crack trade or illegal powder cocaine trade?

I think I CAN accurately assert that you'd be the least likely to become a victim of a fully legalized cocaine trade.

The vast majority of violence associated with it ties to its illegal nature, not to it being crack or powder.

That's if sense and safety matter to you, as opposed to controllin' dem proles.

The real fact is, addictive personalities will get addicted. People who want to get high will do so. This has unfortunate societal-individual consequences, but it ain't going to stop.

I had friends in the 80s who, while they had never done cocaine, they did smoke a fair amount of pot.

At one point the local police managed to shut down the pot sources to the extent where you really couldn't get any (I've actually seen t-shirts that said, "I survived the Great Pot Famine, Summer 1985"), at which point these friends stopped getting high, of course...

Yeah. Right... Want to buy some land?

No, they switched to cocaine, which was smaller, easier to transport, and thus harder to detect/interdict.

People who want to get high are going to GET F'ING HIGH.

The only thing you can really do here, and that is to turn a small industry into a really lucrative illegal one.

At 3/23/2010 11:24 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

P.S., I would suggest that using PEER PRESSURE to stop smoking is a prime example of a far more clearly effective form of reducing substance abuse than laws.

If you want to stop people from abusing substances, then the way to go is peer pressure, not increased penalties or stricter enforcement.


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