Crack, Cocaine Prison Terms Debated

Crack, Cocaine Prison Terms Debated
Posted by FoM on February 05, 2000 at 16:41:03 PT
By The Associated Press
Source: New York Times
It's a dispute that has engulfed the drug debate for years: how best to end the disparity between mandatory prison sentences for possession of crack and powder cocaine. The law requires a five-year prison term for anyone convicted of possessing 5 grams or more of crack. But a person has to be found guilty of holding at least 500 grams of powder cocaine to fall under the same mandate. 
Critics contend that 100-fold difference targets minorities and the poor for jail while allowing more upscale users of the costlier powder cocaine to go free. Defenders of the current thresholds say crack is more addictive and is associated more with violent crime. The debate grew thornier last week: A provision the Senate tucked into a bankruptcy bill would lower the threshold at which powder cocaine offenders would go behind bars. The fate of the Senate-passed bill, as well as that of the cocaine measure, is uncertain. The House has passed its own version of bankruptcy legislation but has not addressed the cocaine issue. The Senate language is drawing its share of criticism and praise. Supporters say it would end the sentencing disparity, remain tough on crime and silence allegations of racism. Opponents say it only will further crowd prisons. ``Rather than reduce the disparity, this would just increase the number of minority offenders going to prison,'' said Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. ``Two-thirds of powder cocaine offenders who would now go to prison under this amendment are Hispanic whites.'' He said the solution is ``locking up fewer crack offenders, not locking up more powder offenders.'' Many judges, including several conservatives on the federal bench, also have criticized Congress' practice of mandating sentences. They say it removes their discretion to weigh a person's role in a crime, the circumstances and other mitigating factors. ``This lock 'em up and throw away the key approach to sentencing has done nothing more than fill our prisons with low- level drug offenders,'' said Monica Pratt, a spokeswoman for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group. Supporters of the cocaine measure by Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., counter that drugs are illegal regardless. Getting tougher is the answer, they argue, not getting more lenient. ``The fact of the matter remains if you're dealing drugs you're committing a crime,'' said Joe Davis, a spokesman for Abraham. ``We're not going to go easy on anybody that deals drugs to our kids. We don't care if it's crack. We don't care if it's powder. These dangerous drugs, no matter what form they are in, are on the streets and we want to take them off.'' The Senate measure would narrow the disparity by reducing the incarceration threshold for powder cocaine possession from 500 grams to 50 grams. The Clinton administration has sought to narrow the disparity by raising the threshold for crack cocaine to 25 grams and lowering it to 250 grams for power cocaine ``The position of the administration has been that the Abraham proposal accomplishes a very different and not necessarily positive objective than the administration proposal,'' said Bob Weiner, spokesman for White House drug policy director Barry McCaffrey. Paul H. Robinson, a Northwestern University law school professor and former member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, said the public has been misled about the reasoning for the disparity. ``This is probably the most irresponsible public discussion I have ever heard,'' Robinson said. He said there are three significant differences between crack and powder cocaine: how quickly a person becomes addicted, the amount of violence associated with each and the number of doses or potency of the amount seized. ``Treating crack and powder cocaine the same, that would be a distortion,'' he said. ``The same weight of powder and crack represents more doses of crack than it does powder. I think as a general principle, changing our sentencing policy because it has a disparate impact on one community or another -- whether racial, sexual, religious or anything -- that doesn't make sense.'' Washington (AP) Published: February 5, 2000Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company Related Articles:Senate Stiffens Cocaine Sentencing Senate Adopts Measure To Reduce Cocaine Disparity Cannabis News Search - Cocaine Issues Over 1000 Articles:
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