Although being touted as a significant correction of the disparity between sentences for possessing powder cocaine and crack cocaine, the Federal Sentencing Commission has made only a cosmetic change. In announcing a small reduction in the penalty for crack possession, the Commission pointed to a reduction in prison population due to the change. Could this change be nothing more than an attempt to save money on prisons, while keeping the unfair law in place?
The New York Times reports that the Commission lowered the minimum sentence for crack cocaine possession from 10 years and 1 month to 8 years and 10 months. The commission wants to apply the change retroactively, creating a quick reduction in the population of already overcrowded prisons.
The 1987 sentencing guidelines applies the minimum sentence to possessors of 5,000 grams of powder cocaine, but only 50 grams of crack cocaine. The Commission’s change in the guidelines reduces the minimum sentence by a mere 15 months, and leaves the minimum applying to possession of 100 times less crack than powder cocaine.