One Step Closer to Equality

For years now there has been a gross disparity between the sentencing guidelines for those convicted of possession of crack cocaine versus powder even though the potency of the two forms of coke are not significantly different.  Indeed the only real difference between crack and powder is who uses them - the former being used predominantly by black Americans and the latter being used predominantly by white Americans.  Yet sentencing for possession of crack has been significantly stiffer than for possession of powder.  Go figure.  This is just one of the more obvious ways in which systemic racism continues to oppress African Americans in the U.S.

Recently however, there has been some good news on this front.  In recognition of the unfairness, the US Sentencing Commission reduced the average sentence for crack cocaine possession from 10 years 1 month to 8 years 10 months, making the sentences more comparable. The Commission is also contemplating whether or not to make that sentencing reduction retroactive.  19,500 crack cocaine offenders currently held in federal prisons might be affected; nearly 86 percent of them are black.

Given that the reason why the sentences were reduced is because of the inherent unfairness of the harsh sentences, one would think the early release of people unfairly sentenced to longer jail terms would not be controversial.  Yet it is.  The Bush administration is claiming that making the sentencing reduction retroactive would put hardened criminals on the streets (appeal to fear), put a strain on the courts, and cost the tax payers money (appeal to greed).  Both of these claims are disputed by both advocates and presumably neutral judges and commissioners.

What I want to know is: even if it were true that this would put a strain on the courts and cost money, why would that be a valid reason to not do what is right?

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative