The Crack Gap, Reformed (sorta)

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THE PLANK OCTOBER 31, 2007

The Crack Gap, Reformed (sorta)

You've probably seen this: The Supreme Court just put a de facto moratorium on all executions until Baze v. Rees, a lethal injection case from Kentucky, gets decided next spring. (Here's one prediction on how that will turn out.)

For my money, though, the bigger criminal-justice news is that, tomorrow, the U.S. Sentencing Commission's new guidelines come into effect, reducing the disparity in penalties for crack and powder cocaine. It's not a huge change (see here), but it's something. According to the Legal Times, if those guidelines are made retroactive—that's still undecided—then some 19,500 federal prisoners would be released early.

So there's that; there's the fact that the Supreme Court looks set to give judges some leeway to deviate from the 100-to-1 disparity; and now conservatives like J.C. Watts and Pat Nolan are writing op-eds in places like The Washington Times arguing that the crack gap is unjust and counterproductive and needs to be fixed. I don't know if Congress is any closer to finally making its own reforms (like, say, Biden's bill to eliminate the disparity entirely), but the momentum's nudging in that direction.

--Bradford Plumer

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