Pubdate: Sat, 29 Jul 2006
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2006 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


No one can plausibly label Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions a 
bleeding-heart, soft-on-crime politician. The conservative Republican 
previously served as attorney general of Alabama and as U.S. attorney 
for the Southern District of the state.

Given that, Sessions has ample law-and-order credentials and plenty 
of credibility when proposing reforms in the glaringly unbalanced 
sentencing for cocaine offenses. This is not a question of coddling 
criminals, but rather a move toward a more equitable sentencing 
structure for offenses involving the different forms of the drug.

Under the current federal sentencing structure, offenses involving 
crack cocaine are punished significantly more harshly than offenses 
involving powder cocaine. The disparity is huge. Five grams of crack 
cocaine means five years in prison, but it takes 500 grams of powder 
cocaine to draw the same sentence. Fifty grams of crack cocaine 
brings a 10-year sentence, but an offender has to have 5,000 grams of 
powder cocaine to get the same sentence.

A 100:1 disparity is hard to defend under any circumstances and has 
drawn particular criticism because of the much higher incidence of 
crack cocaine use among minorities, particularly African-Americans.

There is a strong case to be made for stiffer penalties for crack 
cocaine offenses. Crack cocaine, cheaper and more addictive than 
powder cocaine, tends to produce violent behavior and other criminal 
activity related to obtaining the drug. Even so, the 100:1 disparity 
in the amounts leading to sentencing is excessive.

"We've had a lot of concerns and complaints about that, and I think 
they're legitimate," Sessions said in an interview with the Birmingham News.

Sessions proposes dropping the disparity to 20:1 by reducing the 
amount of powder cocaine in the sentencing equation and increasing 
the amount of crack cocaine. For a 10-year sentence, for example, 
that would mean 200 grams of crack cocaine and 4,000 grams of powder cocaine.

"I think it's the right balance," Sessions told the News. "I believe 
it would improve the sentencing guidelines, create more integrity in 
the system and create more public confidence in the system."

It's clearly a fairer approach.
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