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tv   U.S. House of Representatives U.S. House Debate on Cocaine Sentencing...  CSPAN  October 4, 2021 7:34pm-8:08pm EDT

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>> u.s. house debated sentencing legislation to end disparities. >> mister speaker, the eliminating a quantifiable-y
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unjust application of law act of 2021, or the equal act, would eliminate the unjust sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine offenses. this long overdue bipartisan legislation would allow defendants, who were previously convicted or sentenced for a federal offense involving crack outtake chain, to petition for a sentence reduction. in 1986, congress passed the anti drug abuse act, which created mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses and introduced a 100 to one sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine offenses. this meant that a person who distributed five grams of crack cocaine received the same five year mandatory minimum sentence as a person who distributed 500 grams of powder cocaine. a person who distributed 50 grams of crack cocaine received a ten year -- the same tenure mandatory minimum sentence as a person who distributed 5000 grams of
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powdered 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 average federal sentence for black defendants was 49% higher than the average sentence for white defendants. i'm in the ensuing decades, the sentencing commission and many members of the law enforcement community strongly and repeatedly criticized the 100 to one ratio and urged congress to address this disparity. as early as 1995, the sentencing commission began urging congress to [inaudible] -- despised -- besides the troubling disparity, there was significance differences in punishment of street dealer levels of cocaine and the powdered cocaine suppliers who sold cocaine in the first instances. unfortunately, congress failed to act on the proposed
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amendment to the sentencing guidelines to equalize the gut -- sentencing for crack and powdered cocaine. from 1997 to 2007, the commission continue to warn congress about the unjustified ratio, noting that there is, quote, no legislative history that explains congresses rationale for selecting the 100 to one drug quantity ratio for powder cocaine and crack offenses. and quote. we provided evidence for its findings that the penalty is exaggerated the relative harming fullness of crack cocaine swept to broadly, most often apply to lower level defenders, and mostly impacted communities of color.
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after providing a pathway to relief for some, but not individuals affected by the sentencing disparity. it is now past time to finish the job. the crack cocaine and powdered cocaine disparity has greatly contributed to the rise of mass incarceration, devastated communities of color, and severely undermined public confidence in our criminal justice system. the equal act would finally equalized the treatment of powdered cocaine and crack
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cocaine. two forms of the same drug by eliminating the sentencing disparity. we would also present a path to retroactive law [inaudible] that is not rooted in science, does not promote public safety, and fosters racial disparities. i commend representatives hakeem jeffries, bobby scott, kelly armstrong and don bacon for introducing this important bipartisan legislation, and i urge all members to support it. i reserve the balance of my time. >> the gentleman reserves. the gentleman from texas is recognized. >> thank you, mister speaker. i yield myself such time as i may consume. >> the gentleman is recognized. >> thank you. in the 19 eighties, as chairman adler said, congress enacted harsh penalties for federal drug offenses including mandatory minimum sentences. in that 1986 act, the anti drug
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abuse act, it did create 800 to one sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. meaning in individual convicted of selling five grams of crack cocaine would receive the same sentence as someone convicted of selling 500 grams of powdered cocaine. earlier, years ago, representative dan long green, who had been here in the eighties and in 1986 when this was passed, he said that republicans were told in 1986, with that democratic majority, that if they did not support the huge disparity, then they would not -- they did not care about black neighborhoods and the scourge that crack cocaine was creating. and ruining black neighborhoods. so easily passed because an 86 no one wanted to be called a racist.
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this law contributed to the growth of the u.s. federal prison population from the nineties through the 2000s. in 2010, congress passed the fair sentencing act, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine from 100 to one, 2:18 to one. and as i recall at that time, i thought it would be good to go one to one. that is what we did in texas when i was a judge. but if i recall correctly, there were some republicans who said we cannot go all the way to one to one, but we will agree to 18 to one. if that isn't right, the chair can correct, but that is what i recall because i did not see why we did not go ahead and go one to one back then. just fix it. but that is what happened, it went from 100 to one to 18 to
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one disparity. but in 2018, congress passed and president trump find the first step act, which made the fair sentencing act retroactive. this law allowed those senate for federal drug offenses relating to cocaine, prior to the passage of the fair sentencing act, to move for a re-sentencing under the new law. but the equal act before us today truly lives up to the name of equalizing sentences for similar crimes. it would eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine. it would allow those convicted under the prior lot to move for resentencing under this new standard. at the state level, more than 40 states do not treat crack and powdered cocaine differently in their sentencing structures. passage of the equal act now would align federal sentencing laws with the vast majority of
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states. i would also like to say that 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 one to one. in that hearing i made the 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. i am pleased to agree and to be part of what mr. jeffries prepared and what the chairman has seen through our committee. i'm glad we are finally going to deal with this problem and do right by the people who are sentenced under it. with that i reserve the rest of
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my time. >> the gentleman reserves. the speaker pro tethe gentlemans recognized. >> mister speaker, i now yield five minutes to the distinguished gentleman from new york, the sponsor of this bill, mr. jeffries. >> gentleman from new york is recognized. [inaudible]
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as has been indicated in 1986, shortly after the tragic death of basketball star glenn bias. the anti drug abuse act established a 100 to one disparity in sentencing for crackle came and powdered cocaine. as a result, 500 grams of powder and five grams of crack
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triggered the same five year mandatory prison sentence. yet there is no policy, justification for punishment crack oaken offenses more harshly than the same offense involving powdered cocaine. and there is no pharmacological difference between how the body processes crack cocaine and how it processes powdered cocaine, notwithstanding the thinking at the time. where there is the difference is the laws impact on communities of color. the burden has disproportionately fallen on african american communities. 77.1% of the crack cocaine offenders convicted were black. the most powdered cocaine traffickers are nonblack.
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there was an overall impact as well, a system of mass incarceration, it cost at least 180 billion dollars per year. money that could otherwise be invested in the well-being of everyday americans in intercity america, rural america, suburban america, small town america, appalachia as well. the policy and its failed war on drugs has not resulted in improved public safety. that's why the equality act is supported by law enforcement groups like the major cities chief association, the association of prosecuting attorneys. and perhaps most importantly, the national district attorney's association. recognizing the sentencing disparity is a failure, congress has acted several times to incrementally address
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this disparity. in 2010, with the passage of the fair sentencing act, the disparity was reduced from 100 to one to 18 to one and legislation signed into law by then president barack obama. in 2018, with the first step act, legislation signed into law by then president donald trump, that 18 to one sentencing disparity was made retroactive. and now congress has an opportunity to finish the job. and today, you is poised, in a bipartisan way, to get that done. 50 years ago, the failed war 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,
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disproportionately black and latino, many of them nonviolent drug offenders. who instead of receiving incarceration should have received drug treatment. it was a failed policy then, we cannot repeat that policy today, as so many folks are dealing with the scourge of opioid addiction. that is why i'm so thankful that we are coming together to pass the equal act to end that disparity and to address the era of mass incarceration. i yield back. >> the gentleman from new york reserves. the gentleman from texas is recognized. >> thank you, mister speaker. i yield myself the time i may consume, and i appreciate my friend mr. jeffries mentioning cedric richmond, and also kelly armstrong, who have been such important parts of bringing
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this bill to this place. of course, congressman cedric richmond has passed on to his just reward. of course, that means going to the white house to work, but mr. armstrong is still here laboring in the field. he was unable to be here and ask that i read this statement from him into the record. he said, i wish i could be here today, but i am grateful to representative gohmert showing my remarks of the chamber. i am proud to support passage of the equal act, which will finally provide sentencing parity for federal crack and powdered cocaine offenses. this bill will also provide relief to those who have been sentenced under the previous unequal guidelines in 1986. the anti drug abuse act created 100 to one sentencing disparity
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for crack cocaine and powdered cocaine offenses. for instance, the law created [inaudible] to possess 100 times ta amount to receive the same sentence. the fair sentencing act reduced the disparity from 100-1 to 18-1. and the equal act not only provides sentencing parity fonot only providing sentencing parity for crack and powdered cocaine offenses, 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 federal prison system. we know that addressing substance use disorder and mental health challenges are the most effective ways to help
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these individuals, as well is improve our communities. the answer is not to lock people up for crimes of addiction. we have tried that method for decades and it doesn't work. in an increasingly partisan time, the equal act is an example of how common sense legislation can received bipartisan support from across the political spectrum. you don't have to look further than the prime sponsors of this bill. i'm a conservative republican from north dakota. it says mr. armstrong, congressman jeffries is a democrat from new york city. we disagree on a lot of issues, but we come together to support this bill because it is the right thing to do. it's also why this bill has broad support from across the ideological spectrum. house judiciary committee reported the equal act favourably by a vote of 36 to five. the bill is also supported by dozens of groups ranging from the aclu to americans for
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prosperity. thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to bring us to this point. i urge everyone to support the equal act. that ends this statement by mr. kelly armstrong. and let me just say in conclusion, and i appreciated the comments of mr. jeffries regarding treatment. when i saw during my decade on the bench was, whether it was crack cocaine or powdered cocaine, it was incredibly addictive. and every now and then somebody 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
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did. [inaudible] got a better chance of making it out understanding how addictive those substances are all coming from cocaine. and i know the second chance act act dealt with some of those issues but there might be something else we can do in the future where if you are convicted >> if you are convicted of a offense where you are an addict, then long term substance abuse facility where you deal 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 have sat and watched some of the encounters in the meetings, like a, where you have there in those facilities.
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[inaudible] let anyone get away with anything. and it had a better success rate than any other program that i had seen. so this is a great start for getting the right thing done and i appreciate mr. jeffries and mr. richmond. it was his desire and chairman nadler for making this happen. and i reserve the rest of my time. the speaker pro tempore: the gentleman from tech as >> the gentleman from texas reserves. the gentleman from new york is recognized. >> mister speaker, i now yield three minutes to the distinguished gentleman from rhode island, mr. cicilline. >> the chairman recognizes the gentleman from rhode island. >> i rise today and 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 his leadership in bringing this bill before our
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committee and it's good passage. and of course, thank you chairman jeffries and mr. armstrong, chairman scott, for their leadership on this issue. as you know, mister speaker, 35 years ago congress passed the anti drug abuse act. it created this drastic sentencing disparity between two types of cocaine, the same substance just in a different form. as it has been explained, under this disparity you need 100 times the amount of powder cocaine than crack cocaine to get the same sentence. there was no scientific basis for this, no empirical evidence that there was any difference, 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 impact on communities of color. that has led to mass incarceration and has led to the destruction of so many lives unnecessarily. in 2010, and congress changed the sentencing disparity from 100 to one to 18 to one. while that is some progress --
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that was some progress, and in 2018 we improved on it 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 we finally do that. you know, i served as a public defender and criminal defense lawyer for many years. i unfortunately have seen how often our criminal justice system fails to deliver justice. this disparity is just one of those examples. this legislation will at last fully resolve the discriminatory sentencing disparities between crack and powder 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. that results in mass incarceration and other harms. the equal act is one important step, among so many, but we have to take to end the cycle.
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i want to end once again [inaudible] if mr. gohmert is right, texas did this years ago i will say words >> the gentleman from texas reserves. the gentleman from new york is recognized. >> i yield three minutes to the distinguished gentlelady from texas, again from texas, miss jackson-lee. >> the chair recognizes the distinguished gentlelady from texas. >> mister speaker, i think 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
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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 leaving us on and providing the energy and the engine for doing something that is both, and will be, lifesaving. 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 in addiction
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[inaudible] 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 become incarcerated. they lose their rights to vote. their families are separated from them. they are stigmatized. they may lose their dream, 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 h.r. 1693, the equal act of 2021 which will eliminate the disparity of crack cocaine and powder cocaine and help those who received unfair and harsh
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sentencing. this is another byproduct of our country's failed war on drugs. i have long championed for the equalize of crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. the evidence of the statement of support and comments of our co-manager, mr. gohmert of texas, and as well, the letter from mr. armstrong showed the bipartisan recognition of where we are today. i want to thank the members of the crime subcommittee, crime, terrorism, homeland security committee, who have a collective vision, along with other 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 --
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the speaker pro tempore: the gentlewoman's time has expireds -- expired. ms. jackson lee: we have learned that most of the assumptions on which the 100-1 ratio was based turned out to be unfounded. those unfounded assumptions damaged communities of color for generations and a higher percentage of black americans are convicted of crack cocaine versus powder cocaine and receive longer sentences, the individuals serving unreasonably long because that disparity exists. i was happy to introduce an amendment to allow the courts to grant sentence reduction absent the presence as required today. this will eliminate the court's logjam. and some of these individuals are in fact incarcerated still. individuals like william underwood, cynthia shank, all testified before the house and senate judiciary committees of the devastating impact of mandatory minimum laws have had
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on them, their families and countless others. i can assure you this legislation is long overdue. i'm 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 speaker pro tempore: the gentlelady's time has expired. ms. jackson lee: race has been a factor, and we are glad we are moving beyond that. we must pass the equal act. i yield back. the speaker pro tempore: the gentlelady's time has expired. the gentleman from new york reserves. the gentleman from texas. mr. gohmert: continue to reserve. the speaker pro tempore: the gentleman from texas reserves. the gentleman from new york is recognized. mr. nadler: mr. speaker, i now recognize one minute to the gentlelady from michigan, ms. tlaib. the speaker pro tempore: the gentlewoman from michigan is recognized for one minute. ms. tlaib: 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 in support of the equal act, to eliminate racial disparities in crack and powder cocaine possession.
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the war on drugs, which was designed as a racist project to target black and brown americans, my neighbors, and the obvious racial disparities and enforcement -- in enforcement show us it's still at its core a racist of targeting communities of color through overpolicing, criminalization, and mass 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 -- 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. the speaker pro tempore: the gentlewoman's time has expired.
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mr. nadler: i'll yield the gentlelady another minute. the speaker pro tempore: the gentlelady is recognized for one minute. ms. tlaib: i look forward to supporting future legislation aimed at comprehensive decriminalization of possession for personal use of b substances and strongly encourage my colleagues to support this commonsense bill. lastly, it is a personal honor to support and uplift kendia milton who approached me about this bill who is with dream corps justice in detroit. thank you for your work and allowing me to also fight for all of us today. thank you and i yield. the speaker pro tempore: the gentlelady yields. the gentleman from new york reserves. the gentleman from texas. mr. gohmert: continue to reserve. the speaker pro tempore: the gentleman reserves. the gentleman from new york. mr. nadler: mr. speaker, i have no further speakers, and i'm prepared to close. the speaker pro tempore: the gentleman reserves. the gentleman from texas. mr. gohmert: thank you, mr. speaker. appreciate the chairman's efforts in regards to this bill. and at this time, i would urge my colleagues to support the
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bill and would yield back the balance of my time. the speaker pro tempore: the gentleman reserves. the gentleman from texas -- the gentleman yields back. mr. nadler: 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 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, advocacy groups that span the entire ideological spectrum. i strongly urge my colleagues to
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