Officials in the Biden administration are reportedly urging Congress to pass a bill that will put an end to cocaine sentencing guidelines that advocates say targeted Black Americans and fueled mass incarceration. According to multiple reports, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on Tuesday (June 22) that will review federal sentencing guidelines.
At the hearing, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Regina LaBelle is set to speak to a bipartisan panel and relay President Joe Biden’s support of the Equal Act (Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law). Under the Equal Act, differences in sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine –– first introduced in a 1986 law by then-senator Joe Biden –– will end. Current sentencing guidelines impose harsher sentencing for crack cocaine than the same amount of powder cocaine. The Equal Act, first introduced earlier this year by Sens. Cory Booker and Dick Durbin, would also allow people convicted of these offenses to be resentenced.
“The current disparity is not based on evidence yet has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families, and communities of color,” LaBelle will say, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. “The continuation of this sentencing disparity is significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end.”
Biden’s push to pass the Equal Act comes after he came out against his original law that first imposed the five-year minimum sentence for 500 grams of powder cocaine and the same sentence for just five grams of crack cocaine. In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the sentencing gap, but advocates want it closed completely.
Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who headed up the Drug Enforcement Administration under President George W. Bush is also set to speak during the hearing, offering criticism of the sentencing gap he says “weakens the foundation of our system of justice.”
“Congress now has the opportunity to build on the bipartisan successes of the Fair Sentencing Act and the First Step Act by eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine once and for all,” remarks for the governor also obtained by The Post say. “The strength of our justice system is dependent on the perception of fundamental fairness.”