Hillary Clinton’s Criminal Justice Plan Would Free Thousands Serving Illegally Long Sentences

CREDIT: AP/ROBERT F. BUKATY
CREDIT: AP/ROBERT F. BUKATY

On Friday, five years after the Fair Sentencing Act drastically reduced the sentencing disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine users, Hillary Clinton will propose a more radical reform: eliminating the sentencing discrepancies altogether. The reform is one tenet of her new criminal justice platform, part of which will be unveiled during a campaign speech in Atlanta.

Before the Fair Sentencing Act was passed, the ratio of time served for crack cocaine and power cocaine was 100:1, even though the two are chemically identical. When the law was signed in 2010, the ratio was reduced to 18:1. The change was considered monumental, as lengthy crack cocaine sentences disproportionately affected African Americans who were not more likely than their white or Hispanic counterparts to use crack.

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The law was not retroactive. In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that the law could be applied to people who were convicted before its passage but sentenced afterwards. The monumental, bipartisan criminal justice bill introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee this month would apply the Fair Sentencing Act to all prisoners who were convicted and serving time prior to the law’s enactment.

Under Clinton’s plan, there would no longer be sentencing disparities between the two types of cocaine. The reform would also be applied retroactively, likely impacting more than 15,000 people behind bars.

In addition to the removing the distinction between types of cocaine, Clinton’s criminal justice platform would end racial profiling by police. Law enforcement officers at every level would be prevented from “relying on a person’s race when conducting routine or spontaneous investigatory activities.”