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Reps. Bacon, Jeffries, Scott, and Armstrong Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Eliminate Sentencing Disparity Between Crack and Powder Cocaine

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Kelly Armstrong (R-ND)introduced the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act. The bipartisan legislation would eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and retroactively apply it to those already convicted or sentenced.

The sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, at one point as high as 100 to 1, helped fuel the mass incarceration epidemic. 81% of individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses in 2019 were Black, while historically 66% of crack cocaine users have been white or Hispanic. In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the sentencing disparity from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, and in 2018 the FIRST STEP Act made that reduction retroactive.

The EQUAL Act was introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

“My support for the EQUAL Act is part of my overall approach for much needed justice reform in this country,” said Rep. Bacon. “This discriminatory sentencing has been an ongoing issue for a long time, and we must eliminate the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity.”

“The EQUAL Act will help reverse engineer the tragic legacy of the failed war on drugs which has devastated lives, families and communities. There is no justification for treating powder cocaine differently than crack cocaine offenses. There is no pharmacological difference, no chemical difference and no physical difference between how the body processes crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Crack cocaine has historically been used in inner-city communities and powder cocaine in affluent neighborhoods and the suburbs. Put simply, the dividing line is race and geography. That does not justify the wide disparity in sentencing. I thank Reps. Scott, Armstrong and Bacon as well as Senators Booker and Durbin for their leadership,” said Rep. Jeffries. 

“The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is a relic of the failed ‘war on drugs.’ We know that you cannot effectively treat drug addiction with long prison sentences. These laws did nothing to change behaviors and only wasted taxpayer money and discriminated against minorities. I was proud to lead the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in the House which reduced the disparity but more needs to be done. We need to pass the EQUAL Act to totally eliminate the disparity and then focus on the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences and investments in initiatives known to have the long term effect of reducing drug use such as funding education, health care, housing, workforce training, and jobs,” said Rep. Scott. 

“Eliminating the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity is a step toward applying equal justice under the law. The EQUAL Act is sound, bipartisan criminal justice reform, and I am proud to work with Reps. Jeffries, Scott, and Bacon in advancing this effort,” said Rep. Armstrong.

Rep. Bacon supports reform in our justice system and has supported various legislation including the bipartisan First Step Act in the 115th Congress which retroactively applied the Fair Sentencing Act, limited the use of juvenile solitary confinement and reduced mandatory minimums, among other important improvements. He also joined Rep. Jeffries and former Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) in requesting for the full funding of $75 million for implementation of the Act for Fiscal Year 2021. Rep. Bacon also co-led with Rep. Jeffries H.R. 546, the Effective Assistance of Counsel in the Digital Era Act, which passed in the House on 24 Feb 2021. The bill would enable incarcerated individuals to communicate with their attorneys privately and efficiently by prohibiting the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) from monitoring privileged electronic communications.