Senate Committee Hears Testimony on Need to Reform 100-to-1 Crack/Powder Federal Sentencing Disparity

February 12, 2008 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Discriminatory law has been in place for 20 years – 2008 is the year to act!

Contact: (202) 675-2312,

Washington, DC – The ACLU submitted testimony to the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs of the Senate Judiciary Committee for today’s hearing, titled “Federal Cocaine Sentencing Laws: Reforming the 100-to-1 Crack/Powder Disparity.” The purpose of this hearing is to address the wide disparity between federal sentencing guidelines for crack versus powder cocaine. October 2006 marked the 20th anniversary of the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act. In the years since its passage, many of the myths surrounding crack cocaine have been dispelled, and it has become clear that there is no scientific or penological justification for the 100-to-1 disparity.

“This sentencing disparity has resulted in unwarranted and unjust inequities based on race,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Nationwide, statistics compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission reveal that African-Americans are more likely to be convicted of crack cocaine offenses, while whites and Hispanics are more likely to be convicted of powder cocaine offenses. In addition, many of the assumptions used in determining the 100-to-1 ratio have been proven wrong by recent data. Scientific and medical experts have determined that in terms of pharmacological effects, crack cocaine is no more harmful than powder cocaine – the effects on users is the same regardless of form.”

Continued ACLU Legislative Counsel Jesselyn McCurdy, “Congress made it explicitly clear that in passing the current mandatory minimum penalties for crack cocaine, it intended to target ‘serious’ and ‘major’ drug traffickers. The opposite has proven true: mandatory penalties for crack cocaine offenses apply most often to offenders who are low-level participants in the drug trade. It has been more than twenty years – 2008 is the year Congress must act to eliminate the statutory 100 to 1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine.”

The ACLU has been deeply involved in advocacy regarding race and drug policy issues. In 1993, the organization assisted in convening the first national symposium examining the crack/powder sentencing disparity, titled “Racial Bias in Cocaine Laws.” In 2002 and 2007, the ACLU urged the United States Sentencing Commission to support amendments to federal law that would equalize crack and powder cocaine sentences at the current level of sentences for powder cocaine.

In 2008, ACLU urges Congress to enact S.1711 and H.R. 4545, the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007, in order to end the 20-year travesty of justice. As part of this effort, the ACLU has joined with various civil rights organizations for a month-long series of events, culminating in a lobby day scheduled for February 26 aimed at drawing attention to this important issue.

The ACLU’s full testimony is available at: /drugpolicy/sentencing/34081leg20080212.html

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in Smart Justice

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Smart Justice

Smart Justice issue image

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.