GREATER HARTFORD -- After a year's delay, the General Assembly
seems on its way to correcting a longstanding inequity that
has unnecessarily contributed to jail crowding.
By a vote of 24 to 13, the Judiciary Committee last week approved
an amendment to last year's law to reduce prison crowding. The
change ends the disparity in sentencing for possession of crack
cocaine and powdered cocaine.
Current law specifies that a person arrested for selling or possessing
a half gram of crack, a refined form of cocaine, faces the
same mandatory minimum sentence of five to 20 years in jail
and a maximum life term as someone who sells or possesses 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
sells for about $800 an ounce.
Under the amendment, a person would have to possess an ounce
of crack to trigger the same penalty as applies for having an
ounce of cocaine.
Although few if any defendants are ever convicted under the
current crack statute, prosecutors use its tough penalties to
intimidate scores of 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
of jail time. The practice contributes appreciably to prison
Legal and academic experts, including Chief State's Attorney
Christopher Morano, have for about a decade advocated equalizing
the sentence. But last year, lawmakers killed the amendment for
fear of appearing soft on crime.
This year, fortified with research and a grassroots lobbying
effort by Hartford-based Create Change and The Alliance of Connecticut,
legislators on the committee approved the bill overwhelmingly.
The full legislature and Gov. M. Jodi Rell should follow suit.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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