Now over 20 years old, the sentencing guidelines set forth in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 mandate a minimum incarceration of five years for possession of five grams of crack cocaine -- the same penalty that is triggered for the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine, or 100-times the minimum quantity for crack. . . .
While drug use rates are similar among all racial groups, African American drug offenders have a 20 percent greater chance of being sentenced to prison than white offenders, according to Commission statistics. In 2005, more than 80 percent of crack cocaine defendants were black. . . .
[A] sampling of those incarcerated under the guidelines in 2000 showed roughly 66 percent were low-level street dealers, while only half-of-one percent qualified as "high-level" suppliers. . . .
The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that between 1994 and 2003, the average time African American drug offenders served in prison increased by 77 percent, compared to an increase of 28 percent for white drug offenders. . . .
This year, as it has four times in the past two decades, the Commission recommended that lawmakers repeal the crack sentencing mandate. . . .
Currently there are six bills making their way through Congress aimed at addressing the disparity . . . H.R. 79 . . . would apply the same five-year minimum to powder cocaine . . . Biden's Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007, which would repeal the mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack and focus federal attention away from street-level dealers and onto so-called "cocaine kingpins." . . . the bipartisan Fairness in Drug Sentencing Act of 2007 . . . would only reduce the crack/powder disparity to a ratio of 20-to-1, not eliminate it altogether.
Of course, crack penalties aren't the only problematic mandatory minimum sentences in the federal criminal code, just the most clearly problematic.