A “tough on crime” federal law that requires harsher prison terms for people arrested with crack cocaine than with the powered version of the drug is scientifically indefensible and hugely unfair. A bill that reduces this onerous sentencing disparity has passed the Senate easily. The House, which has been vacillating over whether or not to schedule a vote on the Senate bill, needs to show the same good sense.
Congress passed the misguided law two decades ago, when it was believed that crack — cocaine in baking soda — was more addictive and led to more violence than the powdered form of the drug. These myths were quickly debunked. But the country was stuck with a law under which a drug defendant found holding five ounces of crack received the same mandatory five-year prison term as one busted with 500 ounces of the chemically identical powdered form of the drug.
I've been reading Michell Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This work provides a historical context and theoretical explanation about the reasons behind and the impact of mass incarceration in our society. It is not just happenstance that people of color are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
Laws that permit the continuation of sentencing disparity are a perpetuation of bad policy and are extensions of the the New Jim Crow.