Reform for Drug Crime Sentencing

October 2, 2014
Reform for Drug Crime Sentencing

California lawmakers recently reformed a drug crime sentencing law that was criticized, across the nation, for being racist.

The California Fair Sentencing Act was recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D). It ensures that people who are convicted of certain offenses involving crack cocaine will no longer receive harsher punishments than people found guilty of the same crimes involving the powder form of the drug.

Crack More Prevalent in Low-Income Neighborhoods

The previous law was deemed racist because, while crack and powder cocaine are essentially the same drug, the crack form is cheaper and thus, more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that feels the war on drugs does more harm than good, the majority of people sent to prisons for selling crack are people of color. The crime is a felony that comes with a mandatory prison sentence of no fewer than three years. The new law will reduce that to two – the same amount of time for the sale of the powder form of the drug. The law also makes crack offenders eligible for probation – this is the first time that eligibility has been granted since the 1980s.

Same for Everybody

Author of the bill, State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D) addressed the sentencing discrepancy. “Whether sold as crack or powder, used on the street or in a corporate penthouse, the penalty for cocaine use should be the same for everybody,” she said. “The law isn’t supposed to be a pipeline that disproportionately channels the young, urban and unemployed into jail and joblessness.”

Save $1 million Annually

As a result of the change, it’s expected that several thousand people will now enter probation rather than prison each year. According to Lynne Lyman, head of the California branch of the Drug Policy Alliance, that change will save taxpayers up to $1 million annually. Additionally, Lyman felt the victory was important on a symbolic level. “It represents a willingness by California’s government to begin to undo a litany of failed drug laws that we have put into place over the last 40 years, and in particular it represents a blow to institutional racism,” she said.

 

Source: The Huffington Post, California Takes Overdue Stand Against ‘Failed Drug Laws,’ September 29, 2014

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