Pat Nolan is Vice President of Prison Fellowship, an outreach program to prisoners and their families, and leads the ministry's criminal justice reform arm, Justice Fellowship. For more information about drug policy reform, go to Justice Fellowship's Drug Policy Key Issue Page.
The passage of the bill was a pivotal point in the fight to correct imbalances in our sentencing laws. The bill repeals a mandatory minimum sentence for the first time since mandatory minimums were introduced in the Nixon administration. It is important to note that this law had the support of Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle who joined forces in a remarkable display of non-partisan solidarity.
A unanimous Senate voted to reform the disparity in March, and the House passed the bill at the end of July. With conservative sponsors such as Tom Coburn and John Cornyn joining progressives like Richard Durbin and Al Franken, Congress finally acted to correct this horrible injustice. Rep. Dan Lungren, a former California Attorney General, delivered a statement to the House endorsing the act, saying, "I believe that this is what justice should be about. This is a well-crafted bill, a good compromise; it serves the ends of justice and fairness."
The bill was also supported by a vast number of associations and advocacy groups of all stripes. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National District Attorneys Association and the International Union of Police Associations joined groups such as Prison Fellowship, Families against Mandatory Minimums, the National Association of Evangelicals, CitizenLink of Focus on the Family, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Asa Hutchinson, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The original policy mandated a 10-year minimum sentence for a drug dealer caught with only a candy-bar-size amount of crack. Yet dealers selling powder cocaine had to fill an entire briefcase in order to receive the same 10-year sentence.
Enacted in 1986, the disparity was largely based on the understanding that crack cocaine was more dangerous than powder cocaine because it was instantly addictive and provoked violent behavior. Since then, copious amounts of scientific evidence and U.S. Sentencing Commission analysis have shown these differences to be exaggerated or even false. Sadly, the disparity led to a hugely disproportionate number of black Americans being sentenced under this mandatory minimum law.