What Is The EQUAL Act? How Could It Impact You?
You may have heard about the EQUAL Act on social media or in the news. The EQUAL Act aims to end the disparity in sentencing for cocaine convictions for good. Beginning in the 1980s, the disparity was 100-to-1. Now it’s 18-to-1, but this proposed bill would end the disparity altogether.
If signed into law, the bill would significantly help people of color. And it is also designed to help everyone convicted of a crack-cocaine offense, not only those convicted in the future.
What is the EQUAL Act?
The EQUAL Act’s official name is the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act. (You can see why they call it the EQUAL Act instead.) The EQUAL Act would completely end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
This disparity in sentencing is a product of the “War on Drugs” and “Tough on Crime” policies from the 1980s. Back then, Congress passed laws that created treated one gram of crack cocaine the same as 100 grams of powder cocaine. This meant that people caught with five grams of crack cocaine faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. So did people caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine—even though they had 100 times as much cocaine on them.
In 2010, things finally changed. Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1. And Congress made that change retroactive in the First Step Act in 2018. But there still does not appear to be any scientific (or other kinds of) support for the distinction.
That’s where the EQUAL Act comes in. As its name suggests, the Act aims to treat crack and powder cocaine in an equal way.
Who does the EQUAL Act help?
The EQUAL Act would help anyone convicted of a crack-cocaine offense. But it will especially help people of color. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. As his press release explains, “the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity has disproportionately impacted people of color.”
According to FAMM, 81% of the people convicted of federal crack-cocaine offenses from 2015 to 2019 were Black. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the bill’s other co-sponsor, has tried to end the sentencing disparity before, and he is proud to do so again. “I’m proud to join Senator Booker in introducing the EQUAL Act to get rid of this discriminatory sentencing disparity for good.”
Sen. Booker also focused his comments on those harmed by the unfair disparity. “For over three decades, unjust, baseless and unscientific sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine have contributed to the explosion of mass incarceration in the United States and disproportionately impacted poor people, Black and Brown people, and people fighting mental illness,” he said.
Will this proposed legislation apply to you?
Probably. If have a crack-cocaine offense on your record, the EQUAL Act will likely impact your sentence. The bill not only applies moving forward. But it also to those convicted and sentenced in the past. This could mean shortening people’s sentences and even releasing some people.
The EQUAL Act is a new proposed bill from the U.S. Senate. It would end the sentencing disparity for cocaine offenses for good. If passed and signed into law, the bill would fix things moving forward and clean up discriminatory practices from the past. Whether it will pass remains to be seen. But, for now, there is optimism.