Underreported: Unfair Crack and Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines

Thursday, February 28, 2008

According to current federal sentencing guidelines, convictions for the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine – and only 5 grams of crack cocaine – both result in a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence. Jesselyn McCurdy, legislative counsel for the ACLU, explains why this sentencing disparity is unfair and fails to address the larger problem of the drug trade. Karen Garrison is the mother of 2 sons who are each serving long sentences in federal prison for non-violent crack cocaine offenses.


Karen Garrison and Jesselyn McCurdy

Comments [12]

R.Ellis from phila.

And as for the comments that rosienyc made, not only was it a naive thing to say but a sad one as well. Its your perroggative to ignore the injustices committed against blacks for so many years, but to pretend they dont exist is shameful!!! I bet you believe everything Bush has told thee American public Too!!!!! Get a CLUE

Mar. 17 2008 11:43 AM
R.Ellis from phila.

What surprises memosthow bias people stil are,in this day an age. The bottom line is, its WRONG for the disparity in the two cocaines to be so huge and flagrantly unjust. Yes people who sell cocaine should receive some prison time but it should be fair and just. And everyones case does'nt warrant the same punishment. Cocaine is brought into this country by higher authorities,whom are not black! but is distrbted amongst the black communities. Why does the preference of a drug user matter? snort or smoke smoke or snort? what difference does it make? The difference is more white people would be incarcerated, and Congress wont have That!!!!

Mar. 17 2008 11:28 AM
RosieNYC from NYC

So according to this report, the problem about the high number of African Americans incarcerated for drug-dealing related offenses is everybody else's fault but this community's itself as a whole and the individual's in particular? Once again, this victim's mentality that has caused so much damage in the African American urban community is displayed to blame "the white man" and everybody else but themselves. Needless to say that I found the story of the two brothers in jail hard to believe because their mother was such a showcase for this "victim mentality": if we going to believe and only hear what their mother said, this two individuals were almost angels. As biased as I feel the justice system in this country is, I can not believe that what she describes is really what happened, especially because not once those men were made responsible for anything. How did they informant got a hold of their names to begin with if all they were doing was going to school and working? I am sorry, I can not feel any more sympathy for the urban African American community until they start looking inside and see that their problems are not all caused by everybody else. Until they rid themselves of the "professional victim" attitude and take charge of their decisions, they will always be a troubled community.

Mar. 02 2008 10:55 AM
Leonard from New Jersey

As a recently retired Special Agent with the DEA, I was somewhat surprised at the unbalanced tone of this report on crack sentencing this afternoon. One reason for the heavier sentences for crack cocaine, traffickers is a result of the violent nature of crack cocaine organization and the terror inflicted upon communities. As to the comments regarding cooperating individuals, law enforcement needs the information and assistance of informants who are insiders. As to the mother whose sons from what I gathered appeared to me members of criminal conspiracy. In the pursuit of such organizations, people who are members of criminal groups, don't usually make formal contracts to conduct their business. Which makes the use of informants and or co cooperation individuals vitally important for investigators. From my experience, information supplied from informants and or cooperating individuals is corroborated through other investigative tools such as physical or electronic surveillance. The testimony of a informant and or coconspirators, who themselves many times have less than honorable histories, is rarely the sole evidence presented at trial.

Feb. 29 2008 01:31 AM
rachel from brooklyn

Chris, the ACLU attorney quoted both NIDA and BJS, the two federal agencies responsible for funding the most significant research on substance use/abuse and criminal justice. As a researcher in the field I can tell you that the majority of researchers would accept the data she quoted and would not dispute the general conclusion that early assertions that crack is worse for the mind/body or more addictive are not founded. If you are interested in the literature, check out NCJRS, an excellent source of research reports on criminal justice related topics. The NIDA site also offers a wealth of reports by leading researchers. The point, of course, of research is to rigorously examine a significant number of cases in order to reach a conclusion that is more reliable and more valid than hearsay or individual experience.

Feb. 28 2008 10:33 PM
Karen from Washington, DC

Thank you for listening to the issues of the powder cocaine and crack disparity, also the case concerning my sons. After nearly 10 years of OUR incarceration the issues of disparity are still very strong. The racial divide is so obvious. It is almost like different laws for the Blacks and people of color. This unfairness in sentencing has caused yet another contributing factor to such a terrible divide.

Feb. 28 2008 03:25 PM
aafs from NJ

Huh -- I don't know about cocaine (other than that it is popular in colleges and w bankers) but I worked as a lifeguard in a inner city project pool in the 80s -- all African Americans -- and the kids and parents were quite upset by the army of "crack zombies" that floated around. Within a few years those people had sadly died and that phenom. was over -- cocaine was nonexistent though all smoked pot.

Feb. 28 2008 01:58 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Good Lord, weren't Ms. Garrison's sons able to get an appeal based on incompetent counsel?!

Feb. 28 2008 01:51 PM

Where do the Presidential candidates stand on this issue of equality of how we treat drug offenders in the USA.

Feb. 28 2008 01:42 PM

I would like to hear a discussion on the effect of Crack on the Civil Rights movements. From what I see type of young energetic Blacks that were at the for front of the movement are now in jail due to Crack related offensives.

Feb. 28 2008 01:42 PM

It would much more informative to have a drug expert rather than an ACLU lawyer tell us the about the differences between crack and cocaine.

Feb. 28 2008 01:37 PM

Crack is much more adictive because it is smoked, so it is reasonable to have at least a slightly harsher sentence. The fact that poorer people are more likely to use it is tragic, but doesn't change the fact that crack is more dangerous.

Feb. 28 2008 01:36 PM

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