WASHINGTON – Today, Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) and Don Bacon (R-NE) introduced the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act. The bipartisan legislation would eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and retroactively apply it to those already convicted or sentenced.
The sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, at one point as high as 100 to 1, helped fuel the mass incarceration epidemic. 81% of individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses in 2019 were Black, while historically 66% of crack cocaine users have been white or Hispanic. In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the sentencing disparity from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, and in 2018 the FIRST STEP Act made that reduction retroactive.
“The EQUAL Act will help reverse engineer the tragic legacy of the failed war on drugs which has devastated lives, families and communities. There is no justification for treating powder cocaine differently than crack cocaine offenses. There is no pharmacological difference, no chemical difference and no physical difference between how the body processes crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Crack cocaine has historically been used in inner-city communities and powder cocaine in affluent neighborhoods and the suburbs. Put simply, the dividing line is race and geography. That does not justify the wide disparity in sentencing. I thank Reps. Scott, Armstrong and Bacon as well as Senators Booker and Durbin for their leadership,” said Rep. Jeffries.
“The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is a relic of the failed ‘war on drugs.’ We know that you cannot effectively treat drug addiction with long prison sentences. These laws did nothing to change behaviors and only wasted taxpayer money and discriminated against minorities. I was proud to lead the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in the House which reduced the disparity but more needs to be done. We need to pass the EQUAL Act to totally eliminate the disparity and then focus on the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences and investments in initiatives known to have the long term effect of reducing drug use such as funding education, health care, housing, workforce training, and jobs,” said Rep. Scott.
“Eliminating the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity is a step toward applying equal justice under the law. The EQUAL Act is sound, bipartisan criminal justice reform, and I am proud to work with Reps. Jeffries, Scott, and Bacon in advancing this effort,” said Rep. Armstrong.
“My support for the EQUAL Act is part of my overall approach for much needed justice reform in this country,” said Rep. Bacon. “This discriminatory sentencing has been an ongoing issue for a long time, and we must eliminate the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity.”
Rep. Jeffries has long advocated for restoring justice to America’s drug laws. He co-authored the bipartisan FIRST STEP Act, which retroactively applied the Fair Sentencing Act, limited the use of juvenile solitary confinement and reduced mandatory minimums, among other important improvements.
The EQUAL Act was introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).
“For over three decades, an unjust and unscientific sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown people,” said Senator Booker. “At a time of expanding awareness of the realities of our unjust drug laws and growing consensus for changing them, I am grateful to Representative Jeffries for leading the EQUAL ACT in the House of Representatives as a necessary step in repairing our broken criminal justice system.”