The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has helped fuel mass incarceration and has disproportionately harmed people of color. While there have been some adjustments to the sentencing disparities in recent years, individuals caught distributing crack cocaine continue to receive a harsher sentence than individuals distributing the same amount of powder cocaine, despite a lack of evidence or scientific justification to support such a difference.
In fiscal year 2020, over 77% of those convicted of crack cocaine trafficking offenses were Black, compared to 27.3% for powder cocaine. Consequently, Black Americans are most affected by the longer sentences associated with crack cocaine offenses and punished more severely than those who commit similar crimes with powder cocaine. Black Americans reported similar rates of past month cocaine and crack use as White Americans in 2019.
We know that a punitive approach to substance use focused on incarceration will not work to address the addiction crisis, and the sentencing disparity perpetuates unnecessarily long prison sentences and fuels racial inequities. The Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act would eliminate the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and ensure that those who were convicted or sentenced for a federal offense involving cocaine can receive a re-sentencing under the new law.
The bill has bipartisan support and the support of the Biden administration.