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
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
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.
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