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DOJ urges end to cocaine sentencing disparity

[JURIST] Officials from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] said Wednesday that Congress should eliminate the sentencing disparities [recorded audio] between crimes committed involving crack and powder cocaine. The statements came during a hearing [materials] of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs [official website]. Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer [official profile] testified that the disparity in sentencing guidelines has only increased the strain on the US prison system and has undermined the trust in the justice system, particularly among minorities where sentences for crack cocaine more common. Breuer and others also testified that the differences in sentences, which were instituted in 1986, were based on an incorrect belief that crack cocaine users were more violent and more damaging to society than powder cocaine users.

The sentencing issue was previously addressed by the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) [official website] in 2007 when it voted unanimously [JURIST report] to give retroactive effect to an earlier amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines [USSC materials] that reduced penalties for crack cocaine offenders [press release]. The amendment, which took effect on November 1, 2007, was intended to narrow the disparity between sentences for powder and crack cocaine offenses. According to a study [text, PDF] released [JURIST report] by the USSC in April 2008, more than 3,000 prison inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses had their sentences reduced under the amendment.

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