The New Republic  |  September 20, 2022

This weight-centric approach to drug epidemics led to the notorious 100-to-1 disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine–related offenses. In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the crack-to-powder disparity to 18-to-1. “What we did with crack cocaine was a travesty of justice that harmed a lot of people’s lives,” said Regina LaBelle, a professor at Georgetown University who served a stint as President Biden’s acting drug policy director. “We shouldn’t emulate that today.” Thanks in part to the unraveling of excessive punishments tied to drug weights, the population of federal prisoners serving time for drug crimes began a modest decline in 2014, after sentencing reforms. By 2018, the number of people in state prisons for drug offenses fell by 36 percent from its peak in 2007. Still, the number of people incarcerated for drug crimes—374,000 people on any given day—remains much higher than in 1980, when the drug war escalated.

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