Shorter Crack Sentences


This week the U.S. Sentencing Commission officially notified Congress that it plans to change its sentencing guidelines for crack possession, moving the penalty ranges closer to those for cocaine powder. Under the commission's amendments, the recommended range for possessing five grams of crack would be 51 to 63 months, down from 63 to 78 months; the range for 50 grams would be 97 to 121 months, down from 121 to 151 months. The amendments, which will take effect automatically unless Congress overrides them within six months, do not affect the statutory mandatory minimum sentences established by Congress in the 1980s: five years for five grams of crack (the same as the penalty for 500 grams of cocaine powder) and 10 years for 50 grams (the same as the penalty for five kilograms of cocaine powder). Since 1995 the commission has been urging Congress to revisit this unjust, irrational 100-to-1 disparity, which results in racially skewed sentencing that punishes low-level offenders more severely than major dealers. The current Congress may finally mind the gap, although it's more likely to shrink the disparity than eliminate it entirely.