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Drug Law Change Is Overdue

February 24, 2005
GREATER HARTFORD -- Last year, the Judiciary Committee of the state legislature narrowly voted down an amendment to a bill designed to reduce prison crowding that would have eliminated the disparity in sentencing for possession of crack cocaine and powdered cocaine.

This year, lawmakers have proposed no fewer than five measures that would amend the law that was eventually passed. Perhaps the flurry of bills is a sign that the General Assembly is ready to correct an inequity in the state's sentencing guidelines.

As the law stands, a person arrested for selling or possessing a half gram of crack, a refined form of cocaine, is exposed to the same mandatory minimum sentence of five to 20 years in jail and a maximum life term as someone who had an ounce of pure cocaine. A half gram of crack, which in Hartford sells for about $15, is 1/56th of an ounce of cocaine. Cocaine costs about $800 an ounce.

Because of the extraordinarily tough sentencing for sale and possession of a relatively small amount of crack versus an ounce of cocaine, low-income defendants are serving excessive jail time.

Although few defendants get convicted under the statute, prosecutors use its tough penalties to intimidate scores of ordinary street addicts - people who really should be in treatment centers and mental hospitals - to plead to reduced charges that carry a minimum mandatory sentence of three years jail time.

The practice contributes appreciably to prison crowding, which is why the Judiciary Committee's reluctance last year to make modifications in the law to restore some fairness to sentencing was a missed opportunity. The change had the support of Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano.

Connecticut should not be in the business of crowding its prisons with people who would be better served by placement in alternative programs.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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