Last year's passage of the federal Fair Sentencing Act, legislation that reduced the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack cocaine offenses and eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine, reformed a law universally condemned for its harshness and for the racial disparity it produced. The reform is part of a larger movement to reconsider long mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses that pervade sentencing policy in the United States as well as in Latin America.
Passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in August 2010 marked the first time in 40 years that the U.S. Congress eliminated a mandatory sentence. The legislation was historic at a time when intense partisan wrangling over a broad range of issues on Capitol Hill dominated debate and stymied action. Hopefully, the breakthrough represented by the Fair Sentencing Act will contribute to a broader movement to address disproportionate punishment and ensure a fairer justice system.
WOLA’s new report by Kara Gotsch, director of advocacy at The Sentencing Project, describes the effort that led to passage of the Fair Sentencing Act and points to the unfinished sentencing reform agenda. The report highlights the importance of the reform beyond U.S. borders and argues that “given the United States’ role as the principal architect and major proponent of a global drug control system that has emphasized ‘zero-tolerance’ and criminal sanctions, the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act is a milestone not only for U.S. policy, but also for reform advocates in other countries.”