With passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 by the House this week, Congress at last has reduced the highly unjust sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses that has been on the books for two decades. It has taken years of research, hearings and negotiations to reach this point, and although the compromises made to pass the legislation weakened it, the act is still an important step in the right direction. It shrinks the disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1. That is still not entirely fair; it would have been appropriate to eliminate the disparity and require equal sentences for both, as was first proposed by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).
Correction:An July 31 editorial on the Fair Sentencing Act of 1010, which would reduce the disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses, said the U.S. Sentencing Commission had estimated savings of $42 million in the first five years. That estimate was by the Congressional Budget Office.
Instead, the legislation, which matches a bill passed by the Senate in March, raises the minimum quantity of crack cocaine necessary to trigger a five-year sentence from 5 grams to 28, and raises the amount that triggers a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence from 50 grams to 280 grams. The amount of powder cocaine required to trigger mandatory minimums remains the same: 500 grams.