According to multiple reports, the Biden administration
will lobby Congress
to end the disparities in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine crimes, which critics say have unfairly targeted communities of color and resulted in mass incarceration of Black
Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on federal sentencing guidelines on Tuesday, with a bipartisan panel of officials present. The Washington Post
first reported that Regina LaBelle, the acting director of the White House
Office of National Drug Control Policy, will speak at the hearing and express President Joe Biden
's support for the passage of the Equal Act (Eliminating a Quantifiably Significant Punishment Act).
The Equal Act would eliminate a disparity in sentencing that penalizes possession of crack cocaine
far more severely than possession of an equal amount of powder cocaine, and it would also require that those convicted of such offenses be resentenced.
“The current disparity is not based on evidence, yet it has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families, and communities of color,” LaBelle will say, according to remarks obtained by the Post. “The continuation of this disparity is a significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end.”
According to Reuters, the Justice Department
has submitted testimony to the panel criticizing the law
's "unwarranted racial disparities," which it claims are "based on misinformation
about the pharmacology of cocaine and its effects." The DOJ
also stated that federal sentencing data shows that 87.5% of people
serving time in prison
for drug trafficking crimes involving crack cocaine are Black.
According to Reuters, the agency will urge Congress to apply the Equal Act retroactively “because it is the right thing to do.” Earlier this month, the Supreme Court
ruled that low-level drug offenders do not require new sentences under a separate 2018 law that overhauled the criminal justice
The sentencing disparities date back to a 1986 law drafted by then-Sen. Joe Biden that mandated a five-year minimum sentence for drug offenses involving 500 grams of powder cocaine or just 5 grams of crack cocaine. The 100-to-1 ratio was widely criticized and later reduced to 18-to-1 in 2010 under the Fair Sentencing Act, but equal justice advocates have argued for the entire gap to be closed.
Biden has since renounced the legislation, and his administration's push to support the Equal Act is a significant step in his presidency. As a candidate, Biden was criticized for his tough-on-crime record as a senator, and he pledged to eliminate sentencing disparities as well as mandatory minimum sentences.
Durbin stated on Monday that lawmakers are now aware that such laws have the potential to irreparably harm people's lives.
“We now know that this misguided crack-powder disparity has ruined thousands of lives and has failed to move us one step closer to ending the scourge of drug addiction
in America,” Durbin tweeted on Monday.
We now know that this misguided crack-powder disparity has ruined thousands of lives while failing to bring the scourge of drug addiction in America any closer to an end. Enough. #EndtheDisparity https://t.co/XB0iHI3Fs4
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) June 22, 2021
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who led the Drug Enforcement Administration under President George W. Bush, will use his testimony on Monday to criticize the disparities in sentencing as a situation that "weakens the foundation of our system of justice."
“Congress now has the opportunity to build on the bipartisan successes of the Fair Sentencing Act and the First Step Act by permanently eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine,” Hutchinson will say in remarks obtained by the Post.