Clinton to push for equal prison time for cocaine users

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 30, 2015 6:08 AM

By Amanda Becker

MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) - White House contender Hillary Clinton on Friday will call for criminal justice reforms that would eliminate the disparity in sentencing between offenses related to crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

"Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug and continuing to treat them differently disproportionately hurts black Americans," according to a background document provided by Clinton's campaign.

At a campaign event in Atlanta, the Democratic presidential candidate will urge equal prison sentences for all cocaine offenders as well as legislation banning federal, state and local law enforcement from relying on ethnicity when initiating routine investigations, her campaign said.

The proposals kick off what Clinton's campaign describes as an "extensive agenda" of criminal justice system reforms to be outlined in coming days, focusing on policing, incarceration and re-entry to society.

In Atlanta, she will launch "African Americans for Hillary" before traveling to Charleston, South Carolina, for a dinner hosted by the African-American rights group NAACP.

Clinton's proposals will focus on ending what she has called an "era of mass incarceration" that has disproportionately affected communities of color, according to campaign staff.

Crack, the smoked "hard" form of cocaine, is cheaper than the usually snorted powder version and is more widespread in lower-income communities. Government data from 2009 showed nearly 80 percent of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses were black. Powder cocaine users tend to be white.

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed a law reducing the sentencing-length disparity for crack versus powder cocaine offenses to a ratio of 18-1 from 100-1, treating 18 grams of powder cocaine as the equivalent of one gram of crack cocaine.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has pushed for what it calls fairer sentencing, has said the law "still reflects outdated and discredited assumptions."

Clinton will call for an equal sentencing ratio.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Additional writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Mohammad Zargham)