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The Fair Sentencing Act & What It Meant For Crack Addiction

Published on February 10, 2021
The Fair Sentencing Act & What It Meant For Crack Addiction

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug. It comes in a powder form that can be snorted, injected, or taken orally. In addition, some people cook the powder with baking soda to produce smokable rocks called crack cocaine

All forms of cocaine are illegal (unless administered by a doctor for anesthetic purposes). However, before the United States Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010, crack cocaine offenders faced much harsher sentencing laws than powder cocaine offenders. 

The History Of Federal Crack Cocaine Sentencing 

Crack cocaine first emerged in the United States in the 1980s. Because it was cheaper than powder cocaine, crack became particularly popular in poor communities. These communities consisted mostly of people of color.

At the time, society saw crack cocaine as more dangerous than powder cocaine. While this belief isn’t true, it led Congress to pass the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

This Act included federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses that seemed brutal compared to sentencing policies for powder cocaine offenses. 

For example, a person who possessed 5 grams of crack cocaine would face a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. Powder cocaine offenders would face the same sentence only if they possessed 500 grams of the drug. 

In other words, penalties for crack cocaine offenses were 100 times harsher than penalties for powder cocaine offenses. 

The 100:1 Disparity

This 100:1 sentencing disparity led to serious racial disparities. People of color, particularly African Americans, spent far more time in prison for crack cocaine offenses than whites spent for powder cocaine offenses. 

In addition, African Americans charged with non-violent crack cocaine offenses usually faced the same prison time as whites charged with violent drug offenses. 

The Fair Sentencing Act Of 2010

For years, civil rights activists criticized the 100:1 disparity as an extreme flaw in the criminal justice system.

Finally, in 2010, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Fair Sentencing Act  (FSA) with bipartisan support. President Barack Obama signed it into law on August 3rd, 2010.

This new law reduced the 100:1 disparity to 18:1. That means penalties for crack cocaine offenses are now only 18 times harsher than penalties for powder cocaine offenses. 

For instance, a person must now possess 28 grams of crack cocaine, not 5 grams, to receive a five-year mandatory minimum sentence.

Additionally, the FSA eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum penalty for first-time simple possession of crack cocaine

Now, a person charged with first-time simple possession of any amount of crack cocaine will face a sentence under one year. This same law applies to first-time simple possession of powder cocaine. 

Retroactivity 

In 2011, the U.S. Sentencing Commission approved the retroactive application of the FSA’s crack cocaine sentencing reform. 

That means people who were sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before the FSA’s enactment can have their sentences reviewed in federal court and potentially receive a sentence reduction.

What The FSA Means For Crack Addiction

While many activists believe the 18:1 disparity should be further reduced to 1:1, the FSA was an essential step toward criminal justice reform.

It’s particularly important for people who suffer from drug addiction. Addiction is a serious disease that affects most people who are arrested for drug offenses, including crack cocaine offenses.  

In state and federal prisons, people who struggle with addiction often don’t have access to the treatments they need, such as:

  • medical care to manage withdrawal symptoms
  • therapy to treat mental health issues that contribute to drug use and prevent relapses that may lead to future arrests
  • peer support groups to feel less alone and share coping strategies with people facing similar challenges
  • regular exercise, meditation, yoga, and other wellness activities to maintain good health and reduce the risk of relapse

These and other-recovery focused services are available outside of jail at drug abuse treatment centers. The FSA helps people with crack cocaine addictions get the care they need by reducing the amount of time they spend in jail for crack cocaine offenses.

To learn more about treatment options for crack cocaine addiction, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist today. 

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

American Civil Liberties Union - Fair Sentencing Act
United States Department of Justice - Fair Sentencing Act of 2010
United States National Library of Medicine - Treating Drug Abuse and Addiction in the Criminal Justice System: Improving Public Health and Safety

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