US Senate to narrow sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine

The US Senate’s negotiators have agreed to a tentative deal to decrease the disparity in the sentences announced in offences involving crack and powder cocaine and plan to include the measure in a government spending bill.

Currently, mandatory minimum sentences for committing offences related to crack are 18 times lengthier compared to the minimum sentence in the case of power cocaine, which has resulted in Black Americans’ disproportionate incarceration, as the government adopted the policy almost four decades ago.

As per the deal finalised by bipartisan negotiators, they will narrow down the proportion to 2.5-to-1 . The measure is most likely to be attached to the year-end spending bill by Congress that is currently being discussed by lawmakers. 

Last year, legislation for the complete elimination of disparity in sentences awarded in cases of crack and cocaine powder passed by a wide margin in the House of Representatives, although the Senate has not yet passed the legislation.

The 2.5-to-1 proportion has received public support from various Senate Republicans, which includes the highest-ranking member of the party on the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley.

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There is no retroactive relief for those who have been already convicted in cases of crack-related offences in the tentative deal, which the sentencing reform groups have been demanding. 

The disparity in sentences between crack and powder goes back to the 1980s’ war-on-drugs policies. A law was passed by Congress in 1986 to set up mandatory minimum sentences for offences related to drug trafficking, which dealt with offences related to crack and powder cocaine using a 100-to-1 ratio. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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