Criminal Justice

Biden Administration Endorses Legislation to End Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

The EQUAL Act would finally end one of the worst legacies of the 1980s drug war and clean up one of the biggest stains on Joe Biden's record.

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The Biden administration endorsed legislation today that would finally end the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, and close the book on one of the most destructive parts of Joe Biden's legacy as a senator.

Then-Sen. Biden (D–Del.) co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. That law imposed mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and created a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. In later years, under pressure from activists and criminal justice advocates who cited the wide racial disparities and massive sentences that resulted, Biden reversed his stance. Part of his 2020 campaign platform included ending the disparity.

Regina LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in prepared remarks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today that the Biden administration "strongly supports" eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

"The current disparity is not based on evidence yet has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families, and communities of color," LaBelle said. "The continuation of this sentencing disparity is a significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end."

The Senate Judiciary Committee was considering the EQUAL Act, a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D–Ill.), Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.), and Sen. Rob Portman (R–Ohio) that would erase the sentencing disparity.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act was one of the most disastrous laws passed in the 1980s by lawmakers posturing as tough-on-crime. It imposed substantially heavier penalties against federal crack offenders, who were predominantly black, than powder cocaine offenders, despite there being little to no pharmacological difference between the two substances. The result was that someone with a small amount of crack cocaine would receive the same sentence as someone with 100 times as much powder cocaine. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that black people made up nearly 77 percent of all federal crack convictions in fiscal year 2020.

Criminal justice advocates lobbied for more than a decade to roll back the law. In 2007, Biden endorsed legislation that would have completely eliminated the disparity. A compromise bill, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, reduced it from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1, but did not erase it.

In 2018, the FIRST Step Act made the Fair Sentencing Act's reductions retroactive, leading to the release of roughly 3,000 federal crack offenders.

Among those who testified in favor of the EQUAL Act today was Matthew Charles, who was sentenced in 1995 to 35 years in federal prison for a crack cocaine offense.

"If crack and powder were treated the same, my sentence could have been 15 years, not 35," Charles said at the hearing. "But the 100-to-1 disparity was in place at that time, and I honestly didn't seem like someone who deserved a break."

Inside prison, Charles found religion, turned around his life, and became a model inmate. He was released in 2016 after successfully petitioning for a sentence reduction. However, a federal appeals court ruled that, as a career offender, he was ineligible for a sentence reduction and should have never been released. Two years after he began piecing his life back together, Charles was sent back to federal prison.

But Charles was freed again in 2019—one of the first federal inmates to benefit from the First Step Act. He is now a criminal justice reform advocate.

"The Fair Sentencing Act might have been the best political compromise Congress could have reached 11 years ago, but the unfairness it sought to address remains," Charles said.

Others who testified in favor of the legislation included Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is also the former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Russell Coleman, a former federal prosecutor.

However, not all Republicans are on board. Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.), one of the staunchest supporters of mandatory minimum sentencing laws in Congress, suggested erasing the disparity by raising the sentences for powder cocaine:

Fortunately, support for the sort of laws that put Charles and countless other offenders behind bars for decades has dried up, and sentiments like Cotton's are no longer greeted by bipartisan applause.

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  1. So trump was right?

    1. Trump was pretty good on criminal justice reform.

      Tom Cotton on the other hand… yikes.

      1. Tom Cotton I’m pretty sure gets his views on redemption and punishment from what I can only assume are his ancestors, John Cotton and Cotton Mather, Richard Mather and Increase Mather. Very Puritan hellfire and brimstone, burn the witches and no humor allowed. He’s the greatest representative of the sinners in the hands of an angry God school of thought since Jeff Sessions and John Ashcroft and I have a suspicion that his mother caught him masturbating when he was a child and gave his pee-pee such a whacking that it warped his whole views on pleasure ever since.

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  2. Hey look, they found something to like about Biden!

    What’d it take, six months?

    I bet it takes longer to find the next thing to like about Biden.

    1. Then-Sen. Biden (D–Del.) co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986… In 2007, Biden endorsed legislation that would have completely eliminated the disparity.

      It only took him 21 years.

  3. and clean up one of the biggest stains on Joe Biden’s record.

    Now do you right-wing ingrates understand why we elected a 50 year-serving Senator to the presidency? This gives him a chance to clean up the stains on his record!

    1. This gives him a chance to clean up the stains

      Can Bill Clinton be elected again?

      1. Rumor is it would be a bent election.

      2. >>Can Bill Clinton be elected again?

        he’ll need viagra but probably.

      3. It’s why we didn’t elect Hillary. She was too precious to allow stains on her record.

  4. In 2018, the FIRST Step Act made the Fair Sentencing Act’s reductions retroactive, leading to the release of roughly 3,000 federal crack offenders.

    Huzzah! Joe Biden the Prodigal Son has finally seen the error of his ways, let us slaughter the fatted calf! It’s just too bad it took Biden until 2018 to amend his ways.

    Wait a minute, Joe Biden wasn’t President in 2018, was he? Who was President in 2018? I can’t remember, but no matter, I’m sure if it made any difference who the President was in 2018, his name would have been mentioned.

    1. We had no President for 4 years. Unless you’re talking about something bad, then Trump was President.

  5. So Biden still wants to put people in jail for possession.

  6. Fortunately, support for the sort of laws that put Charles and countless other offenders behind bars for decades has dried up

    It’s so weird how no one ever makes a point of detailing just what that support was.

    Community activists and religious leaders from the black community.

    Why? Because Matthew Charles and people like him were destroying so many lives in the black community. They didn’t WANT him loose.

    But everyone acts as if ‘white racists’ are behind this.

    Nope.

    Say, how are crime rates in the black community since the First Step Act passed? I’ve been hearing a lot about that lately.

    Yeah.

    1. “”It’s so weird how no one ever makes a point of detailing just what that support was.””

      Yep.

      Charlie Rangel was a co-sponsor.

  7. >>and clean up one of the biggest stains on Joe Biden’s record.

    no, it will not.

  8. Tom Cotton is a drawling, authoritarian, superstition-drenched, bigoted clinger who is among my favorite culture war casualties. Stomping his obsolete right-wing preferences, especially with respect to the Republicans’ drug war, into irrelevance has been and will continue to be important and enjoyable for the American mainstream.

    1. “”Republicans’ drug war””

      Well, Joe Biden never met a “republican” drug war he didn’t like.

      A co-sponsor of those bills is now a president. Which side is winning?

      1. It is amazing how ignorant every single leftist is. The drug war started largely under nixon but then was taken over in the early 80s at the request of inner city democrats fighting the crack and helping epidemics. They pushed some of the harshest laws, such as Biden did.

        It is amazing how ignorant the left is to history.

        1. You could have ended that last sentence two words earlier.

    2. So he should be right up your alley.

    3. You forget that the disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine exists BECAUSE OF BIDEN?

      Or did you just not know that?

  9. “”Regina LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in prepared remarks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today that the Biden administration “strongly supports” eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

    “The current disparity is not based on evidence yet has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families, and communities of color,” LaBelle said. “The continuation of this sentencing disparity is a significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end.”””

    The current disparity is 18:1. That was changed from 100:1 to 18:1 in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_Sentencing_Act

    The current disparity has only been around for one decade.

    Obama did some good and the Biden admin wants to act like it didn’t happen?

    1. A disparity caused by Black activists & organizers in the first place. Would be nice for the “racist” origins to be recognized rather than feeding into the narrative that these things have any cause (white supremacy for instance) other than misguided government reactions & attempts to control people.

  10. Wake me up when something actually gets passed, and signed into law.

  11. Biden Administration Endorses Legislation to End Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

    So, you’re saying, the way to get bad laws repealed is to elect the guy who spent 50 years working hard to enact them into office?

    Or maybe its that ’empathy’ thing where you elect someone affected by the law – when you’re the father of a crackhead *and* the President you’re gonna use your power to protect your children.

    Why is it that President Biden’s major accomplishments will be undoing Senator Biden’s accomplishments?

    1. Think Trump will ever get around to it?

  12. I’m reminded of the wise words of Bronn: “There’s no cure for being a cunt”

  13. Wait, you mean people still smoke Crack? Waste of good powder if you ask me.

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