Durbin Helps Lower Crack Penalties - NBC Chicago

Durbin Helps Lower Crack Penalties

Durbin bill narrows sentencing ratio



    Durbin Helps Lower Crack Penalties
    The sentencing gap between possession of powder and possession of crack could narrow soon.

    What's the difference between crack and powder cocaine?

    Chemically, nothing. But legally, it takes a lot less powder to get in big-time trouble.

    That sentencing gap could be narrowed soon, however, reports the Northwest Indiana Times.

    On March 17, the U.S. Senate passed a bill—sponsored by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin—that would raise the amount of crack needed to prompt mandatory prison time.

    Currently, the difference in mandatory sentences for possessing powder versus cocaine is 100-to-1. That means it takes 5 kilograms (5000 grams) of powder cocaine to earn a federal minimum of 10 years in jail. However, it only takes 50 grams of crack to receive the same punishment.

    Why the discrepancy?

    Because the legislation was created in the 1980s, when very little was known about crack cocaine. Cooked in baking soda, crack is a cheaper form of cocaine, making it more popular in urban communities than its powder counterpart. Lawmakers assumed that crack was more addictive and more dangerous, so they created harsher laws.

    "Crack cocaine had just appeared on the scene, and it scared us because it was cheap, addictive," Durbin said, reports the AP. "We thought it was more dangerous than many narcotics."

    Now that our science is more advanced, we know better. But the laws have remained the same.

    And those seemingly unfair laws have affected urban communities the hardest.

    "Law enforcement experts say that the crack-powder disparity undermines trust in the criminal justice system, especially in the African-American community," Durbin said, according to the AP.

    Durbin initially wanted the sentencing ratio to be 1-to-1. Whether a convicted criminal is carrying powder or crack, it wouldn't matter. The punishment would be the same for both.

    However, he compromised to an 18-to-1 ratio. A ten-year sentence would be triggered by 280 grams of crack, instead of the current 50.

    So, why 18-to-1?

    That's a good question.

    "I'm struck by the lack of logic," said attorney Scott King, former mayor of Gary, according to the Northwest Indiana Times. "You're pulling a number out of a hat. What's your scientific or other basis for establishing a ratio?"

    Matt Bartosik is a Chicago native and a social media sovereign.