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tv   U.S. House of Representatives U.S. House Debate on Cocaine Sentencing...  CSPAN  October 4, 2021 1:30pm-2:04pm EDT

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the u.s. house ended sentencing disparates for liquid cocaine and powder cocaine. both leaders were in favor of the legislation. mr. speaker, hr-6093, eliminating a quantifiably justifiable application of the law or the equal act would end the disparate between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. this long-overdue legislation will end sentences for federal offense involving crack cocaine to petition for sentence reduction.
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in 1986, congress passed the anti-drug abuse act which created mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses and introduced the 100 to 110 sentencing disparate. this meant that a person who distributed 5 grams of crack cocaine received the same sentence as a person who distributed 500 grams of powder cocaine. a person who distributed 50 grams of crack cocaine received the same 10-year mandatory minimum sentence as a person who distributed 5,000 grams of powder cocaine. it soon became evident that this sentencing disparity also created a significant racial disparity. four years after congress passed the anti-drug abuse act, the sentence for black offenders were higher than for white offenders. in the ensuing decades, the
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sentencing commission and many members of the law enforcement community strongly and repeatedly criticized the 100-1 ratio and urged congress to address the disparity. as early as 1995, the sentencing commission began urging congress to rectify this unfairness. besides the troubling racial disparities in sentencing, the commission also expressed concern over the significant differences in punishment between street-level dealers of crack cocaine and the powder cocaine suppliers who sold the cocaine in the first instance. unfortunately, congress failed to act on the commission's proposed amendment to the sentencing guidelines to equalize the penalties for crack and powder cocaine. from 1997 to 2007, the commission continued to warn congress about the unjustified ratio, noting that there is, quote, no legislative history that explains congress' rationale for selecting the 100-1 drug quantity ratio for powder cocaine and crack
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offenses, unquote. it provided evidence for its findings that the penalties exaggerated the relative harmfulness of crack cocaine, swept too broadly most often applied to low-level offenders and mostly impacted communities of color. congress, however, took no action, prompting the commission to pass an amendment to the sentencing guidelines in 2007 as a partial and modest remedy to the urgent and compelling problems associated with the ratio. in doing so, the commission unanimously and strongly urged congress to take on its recommendations and to provide a comprehensive solution. in 2010, congress finally acted bypassing the fair sentencing act which did not eliminate the disparity but which significantly reduced the ratio from 100-1 to 18-1. but the fair sentencing act applied only to pending and future cases, leaving thousands of incarcerated people without a
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path to petition for relief. the first step act of 2018 made the fair sentencing act retroactive, providing a pathway of relief for some but not all individuals affected by the sentencing disparity. it is now past time to finish the job. the crack cocaine and powder cocaine disparity is greatly contributed to the rights of massive incarceration, devastated communities of color and severely undermined public confidence in our criminal justice system. the equal act would finally equalize the treatment of powder cocaine and crack cocaine, two forms of the same drug, by eliminating the sentencing disparity. it would also provide a path to retroactive relief from a disparity that is not rooted in science, does not promote public safety and fosters racial disparities. i command representatives
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jeffries, barbara scott and bacon for introducing this bipartisan legislation and i urge all members to support it. i reserve the balance of my time. >> the gentleman from texas is recognized. >> thank you, mr. baker. i yield myself such time as i may consume. >> your time is recognized. >> thank you. in the 1980s, as chairman adler said, congressmen enacted harsh penalties for federal drug offenses, including mandatory minimum sentences. in that 1986 act, the anti-drug abuse act, it did create 100-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. meaning an individual convicted of selling five grams of crack cocaine would receive the same sentence as someone convicted of selling 500 grams of powder
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cocaine. earlier, years ago, representative dan lundgren, who had been here in the '80s, in 1986 when this was passed, said that republicans were told in 1986 with the democratic majority by representative charlie rangel that if they did not support the huge disparity, then they did not care about black neighborhoods and the scourge that crack cocaine was creating and ruining in black neighborhoods. so it easily passed because in '86, no one wanted to be called a racist. this law contributed to the growth of the u.s. federal prison population from the 1990s through 2000s. in 2010, congress passed the fair sentencing act which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine from 100-1 to 18-1.
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and as i recall, at that time, i thought it would be good to go one to one. that's what we did in texas when i was a judge. but if i recall correctly, there was some republicans that said we can't go all the way to 1-1 but we'll go 18-1. if that's not right, the chair can correct, but that's what i recall. i didn't see why we didn't go ahead and go 1-1 back then and just fix it. but that's what happened. it went from 100-1 to 18-1 disparity. but in 2018, congress passed, president trump signed the first step act which made the fair sentencing act retroactive. this law allowed those senates for federal drug offenses related to cocaine prior to the fair sentencing account to move to new sentencing under the new
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law. but the equal act before us today truly lives up to the name of equalizing sentences for similar crimes and would eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and allow those convicted under the prior law to move for resentencing under this new standard. at the state level, more than 40 states do not treat crack and powder cocaine differently in their sentencing structures. passage of the equal act now would align federal sentencing laws with a vast majority of states. and i would like to also say, in a prior hearing, mr. jeffries indicated that he intended to go forward and would try to push a bill, as the chair also had hoped, that would finally eliminate the sentencing disparity and go 1-1. in that hearing i made the
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comment that if mr. jeffries would draft a bill that did just that, then i would support that. and i am very pleased that mr. jeffries was a man of his word. he did exactly what he said. he prepared a bill that fixed this problem. and i'm pleased to agree and to be part of what mr. jeffries prepared and what the chairman has seen through our committee, and glad we are finally going to deal with this problem and do right by the people that are sentenced under it. with that i'll reserve the rest of my time. >> the gentleman reserves. the gentleman from new york is recognized. >> mr. speaker, i now yield five minutes to the distinguished gentleman from new york to sponsor this bill, mr. jeffries. >> the gentleman from new york is recognized. >> speaker, thank you very much.
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i thank the distinguished chair of the house judiciary committee jerry adler for yielding and moving this important piece of legislation forward. i also thank kelly armstrong, who is the lead republican who has sponsored this legislation for his advocacy and his efforts to advance this critical piece of legislation, and i thank my good friend, the distinguished gentleman from texas, congressman gohmert, who indicated that we had had a previous conversation with then-congressman cedric richmond at a judiciary committee hearing about his willingness to be supportive of moving forward with a bill to deal with the sentencing disparity that relates to crack cocaine and powder cocaine. so i rise in support of hr-1693, the equal act, legislation that will finally eliminate the
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federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity, which has devastated families' lives and communities across the country. as has been indicated since 1986, shortly after the tragic death of basketball star len bias. the anti-drug response made the 100-1 disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. 500 grams triggered the same mandatory prison sentences, yet there was no policy justification for punishing crack cocaine offenses more harshly than the same offense involving powder cocaine. and there is no pharmacological
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difference between how the party processes crack cocaine and how it processes powder cocaine, notwithstanding the thinking at the time. where there is a difference is the law's impact on communities of color. the burden has disproportionately fallen on african-american communities, 77.1% of the crack cocaine offenders convicted were black. while most powder cocaine traffickers are non-black. there was overall impact as well. our system of mass incarceration cost at least $180 billion per year. money that could otherwise be invested in the well-being of everyday americans and inner city america, rural america, suburban america, small town
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america, appalachia as well. policy and this failed war on drugs has not resulted in improved public safety, which is why the equal act is supported by law enforcement groups like the major cities' chiefs association, the association of prosecuting attorneys and, perhaps most importantly, the national district attorneys association. recognizing the sentencing disparity as a failure, congress has acted several times to incrementally address this disparity. in 2010, with passage of the fair sentencing act, the disparity was reduced from 100-1 to 18-1 that legislation signed into law by then-president barack obama. in 2018 with the first step act, legislation signed into law by
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then-president donald trump. that 18-1 sentencing disparity was made retroactive. and now congress has an opportunity to finish the job. and today the house of represent representatives is poised to get that done. 50 years ago, the failure on drugs was first launched. when the president at the time declared drug abuse public enemy number one, at the time there were less than 300,000 people incarcerated in america. today 2.3 million disproportionately black and latino, many of them non-violent drug offenders, who instead of receiving incarceration, they received drug treatment. it was a failed policy then. we can't repeat that policy today as so many folks are
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dealing with the scourge of opioid addiction, and that's why i'm so thankful that we're coming together to pass the equal act to end the disparity and to address -- >> the gentleman's time as expired. >> -- the crime across this nation. i yield back. >> the gentleman from texas is recognized. >> thank you, mr. chair. i appreciate my friend mr. jeffries mentioning cedric richmond and also kelly armstrong that had been such important parts of bringing this bill to this place. of course, congressman cedric richmond has passed on to his just reward. that means going to the white house to work. mr. armstrong is still here laboring in the field. he was unable to be here and
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asked that i read this statement from him into the record. he said, i wish i could be here today but i'm grateful to representative gohmert for sharing my remarks to the chamber. i'm proud to share support passage of the equal act which will finally show disparity for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. this would fix the previous unequal guidelines. the anti-abuse act created 100% disparity for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. for instance, the law created a five-year sentence for distribution for five grams of crack cocaine. at the same time a person would need to distribute 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive the
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same sentence. the senate act made it a ratio of 18-1. it also solves the retroactivity and implementation issues. this is not being soft on crime, it's being smart on crime. many americans struggling with addiction are no stranger to the public prison system. we know that using substantive youth disorder is the only way to help these individuals as well as improve our communities. the answer is not to lock people up for crimes of addiction. we tried that method for decades. the equal act is an example of how partisan legislation can receive bipartisan support
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across the political spectrum. you don't have to look further than the proud sponsors of this bill. i'm a conservative republican from north dakota. kelly armstrong and mr. jeffries is from new york city. we come together to support this bill because it's the right thing to do. it's also why this bill has broad support from across the idealogical spectrum. the house judicial committee reported the equal act favorably by a vote of 36-5. the bill is also supported by dozens of groups ranging from the aclu to americans for prosperity. thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to bring us to this point. i urge erv ef to support the equal act. that ends this statement by kelly armstrong. let me say in conclusion, and i appreciate the comments of mr. jeffries regarding treatment,
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what i saw during my decade on the bench was whether it was crack cocaine or powder cocaine, it was incredibly addictive. and every now and now and then might be able to deal with their addiction in a 30-day program, but normally it took a lot longer than 30 days. something i thought texas did right was have up to 12 months substance abuse felony punishment facility, some thought it was strange that a strong conservative like myself used that as much as i did, but i saw this is so addictive, it needs a length of time to help people to change their lives for such a time that they've got a better chance of making it out, understanding just how addictive those substances are, all coming from cocaine. so, perhaps that's -- and i know
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the second chance act dealt with some of those issues. but it might be something else we could do in the future where if you're convicted of an offense where you are an addict, then a long-term substance abuse facility where you deal, you're only with people with your same problem, and it's a locked down facility, you don't have a choice of going anywhere. and as i've sat and watched some of the encounters in the meetings like aa, boy, they have a bs detector, they don't let people get away with anything, they've been there, they know. and it had a better success rate than any other program that i had seen. so, this is a great start toward getting the right thing done, and i appreciate mr. jeffries, and in the past mr. richmond.
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i know it was his desire, and chairman nadler for making this happen. and i reserve the rest of my time. >> gentleman from texas reserves. the gentleman from new york is recognized. >> mr. speaker, i now yield three minutes to the distinguished gentleman from rhode island, mr. cicilline. >> the chairman recognizes the gentleman from rhode island. >> i am in strong support of the equal act, which eliminates the discriminatory sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine. and i want to thank chairman nadler for bringing this before our committee and its quick passage. and for their leadership on this issue. as you know, mr. speaker, 35 years ago, congress passed the anti-drug abuse act, which created this drastic sentencing disparity between two types of cocaine, the same substance, just in a different form. and as has been explained under
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this disparity you needed a hundred times the amount of powdered cocaine than crack cocaine to get the same sentence. there was no scientific basis for this, no empirical evidence that there was any evidence. and the harm that this caused was devastating to so many. for more than three decades, defendants have suffered under this disparity with highly disproportionate impacts on communities of color. and that has led to mass incarceration, and as i said, the destruction of so many lives unnecessarily. in 2010, congress changed the sentencing disparity from 101 to 108. and while that was some progress, and in 2018 we improved on that even more under the extraordinary leadership of mr. jeffries by making it retroactive. but while it was a step in the right direction, making the disparity smaller did not make the sentencing fair. and so today we finally do that. i served as a public defender and a criminal defense lawyer for many years, and i've seen,
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unfortunately, how often our criminal justice system fails to deliver justice. and this disparity is just one of those examples. this vital legislation will at last fully resolve the disparities between crack and powdered cocaine and correct this injustice for so many. our prisons are overcrowded, and lives are unfairly harmed every day, especially in communities of color because of unjust and discriminatory sentencing laws, resulting in mass incarceration and other harms. the equal act is one important step of so many that we have to take to end this cycle. and i want to end, again, by thanking mr. jeffries for his extraordinary leadership on this bill, thank chairman nadler for bringing this bill to the floor, delighted it's bipartisan, and if mr. gohmert is right, that texas did this some years ago, i will say words that i never expected to say on the house floor in my life. we need to follow the lead of texas. i yield back. [ laughter ]
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>> the gentleman from new york reserves. general from texas is recognized. >> continue to reserve. >> gentleman from texas reserves. julia ainsley from new york is recognized. >> mr. speaker, i yield three minutes to distinguished gentlelady from texas, again, from texas, ms. jackson lee. >> the chair recognizes distinguished gentlelady from texas. >> mr. speaker, i thank you, and i thank the distinguished chairman of the judiciary committee for yielding and with the distinguished gentleman from rhode island, judge gohmert, we know that texas knows how to lead. so thank you so very much for bringing that to our attention. let me take just a moment to turn and say thank you to chairman jeffries for leading us on and providing the energy and
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the engine for doing something that is both and will be life-saving. it is and will continue to be life-saving. it is my life's work to use the criminal justice system as a reform mechanism to save lives and to ensure that it is not a system that unequally prides itself in supporting the rights sometimes of the offender without acknowledging the rights of the victim. in many instances an addiction, you will find persons who go awry of the criminal justice system as victims. because they then are not given the treatment that they should get or they are not given the recognition of the question of how you can fairly address these laws. they are in fact becoming victims. they are victims of the system, they become incarcerated.
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they lose their rights to vote, their families are separated from them. they are stigmatized. they may lose their life's dream of being a teacher or a police officer or a lawyer. we don't know what lives we lost in the so-called war on drugs. how many fell by the wayside. and so i am proud to support hr 1693, the equal act of 2021, which will finally eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine offenses and provide retroactive relief to thousands of people who received harsh and unfair sentences based on this disparity. the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity is another byproduct of our country's failed war on drugs have long championed for the equalization of crack cocaine and power cocaine offenses. the evidence of the statement of support and comments of our
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comanager, mr. gohmert of texas, and as well the letter from mr. armstrong show the bipartisan recognition of where we are today. i want to thank the members of the crime subcommittee, crime terrorism and homeland security who collectively have a vision along with all the members of the judiciary committee. what are we doing there? yes, we are there to uphold laws, to promote the legal process under this system called criminal justice, but we are surely there to ensure that criminal justice works. beginning in 2007 -- >> the gentlelady's granted an additional minute. >> beginning in 2007 i introduced legislation that would have ended the disparity because we had learned that most of the assumptions on which the 101 ratio was based turned out to be unfounded. those unfounded assumptions damage communities of color for
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generations, and a higher percentage of black americans are convicted of crack cocaine versus powdered cocaine offenses, and receive significantly longer sentences for comparable offenses. the individuals are serving unreasonably long because that disparity exists. i was happy to introduce an amendment to allow the courts to grant sentence reduction absent the defendants president today. this will eliminate some handcuff the court's log jam. individuals like williamunderwood, matthew charles and cynthia all testified before the house and senate judiciary committees about the devastating impact the sentencing disparity that it has had on them and their families and countless others. this legislation is long overdue. i am excited that the introduction of my legislation now today will become reality. and i'm excited to be a part in working with chairman jeffries on this important legislation. >> the gentlelady's time is expired.
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>> finally concluding, just to say that race has been a factor, and we are glad that we're moving beyond that. i yield back. >> gentleman from new york reserves. >> continue to reserve. >> gentleman from texas reserves. >> mr. speaker, i now yield one minute to the distinguished gentlelady from michigan, ms. tlaib. >> the gentlewoman from michigan is recognized for one minute. >> colleagues, as someone who grew up in a community on the front line of the racist so-called, quote, war on drugs, i am proud to stand here today to eliminate equal disparities in crack and powdered cocaine possession. the was are on drugs which was designed as a racist project to target black and brown americans, my neighbors, and the obvious racial disparities in enforcement show us that it is still is at its core a racist target of communities of color through overpolicing, mass
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incarceration. simply put, addiction is a health condition, not a crime. giving incarcerated people an opportunity to be resentenced will transform lives immediately. we need to be doing more to make reparations to those impacted by the so-called war on drugs. and while this bill is a great step on the road to comprehensive drug and criminal justice reform, we must go further. our goal must be to end this country's militarized, quote, jail first, ask questions later approach to addiction, and stop trying to solve social problems with more policing. >> -- time has expired. >> just a little bit more? >> i'll yield the gentlelady another minute. >> the gentlelady has been extended an additional minute. >> i look forward to supporting future legislation aimed at comprehensive decriminalization of possession of these substances and strongly encourage my colleagues to support this common sense bill.
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lastly, it is a personal honor to support and uplift kandiya milton who approached me about this bill, who is with dreams corps. thank you, and i yield. >> the gentlelady yields. gentleman from new york reserves. the gentleman from new york is recognized. >> mr. speaker, i have no further speaker, and i'm prepared to close. >> the gentleman reserves. gentleman from texas. >> thank you, mr. speaker. i appreciate the chairman's efforts in regard to this bill, and at this time i would urge my colleagues to support the bill and would yield back the balance of my time. >> gentleman reserves. gentleman from texas -- >> mr. speaker, the equal act of 2021 represents an important step in our efforts to reform the criminal justice system. i thank representatives jeffries, scott, armstrong, and
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bacon for their leadership in introducing this important legislation and for assembling a broad and bipartisan coalition of stakeholders in support of the bill, including the department of justice and advocacy groups that span the entire ideological spectrum. i strongly urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bipartisan bill today. and i yield back the balance of my time. c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we're funded by these television companies and more, including comcast. >> do you think this is just a community center? no. it's way more than that. comcast is partnering with 1000 community centers to create wifi-enabled lift zones so students from low-income families can get the tools they need to be ready for anything. >> comcast supports c-span as a public service, along with these other television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy.


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