Eliminate Unjust Sentencing Disparities and Build Anew

Letter to Senator Chuck Grassley to Support including the EQUAL Act in End-of-Session, Must-Pass Legislation

Dear Senator Grassley, 

Our faiths call us to show mercy and treat everyone equally. In that spirit, we Iowans express our strong support for keeping S.79/H.R.1693—the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act in H.R. 7900—the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In the pursuit of justice by any legislative means possible, we applaud the House’s effort to include the EQUAL Act in the FY2023 NDAA, which passed on July 14, 2022 with bipartisan support, and we strongly urge you and the Senate to do the same.  

 The EQUAL Act has gained significant bipartisan support in the Senate as of April 4, 2022, with eleven Republican cosponsors and ten Democratic cosponsors. We applaud these Senators for supporting needed reforms that will eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, a major contributor to mass incarceration, and urge you to join them in supporting the EQUAL Act is kept in S.4543, the Senate version of the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act. 

 While there is no pharmacological difference between crack and powder cocaine, the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act set up a 100:1 ratio for sentencing. Although usage of crack among Black people was only slightly higher than usage among white people, it was stereotypically associated with the Black community, while powder cocaine was associated with white users. The cocaine sentencing disparity meant that a person possessing five grams of crack was sentenced to the same amount of time as someone possessing 500 grams of powder cocaine. 

 This disparity is one of the causes of overincarceration of Black people for non-violent drug offenses and is one of the great injustices of the failed ‘War on Drugs.’ In the federal criminal legal system, the average Black defendant convicted of a drug offense will serve nearly the same amount of time (58.7 months) as a white defendant would for a violent crime (61.7 months). 

 Following decades of work by advocates, Congress decreased the sentencing disparity from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 through the 2010 passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. The EQUAL Actwill finally right this wrong by bringing the ratio to 1:1. Upon passage of the EQUAL Act, any person who has not yet been sentenced would be sentenced according to these guidelines, and anyone serving time under the previous guidelines would have the opportunity to request a review and resentencing of their case. 

 As people of faith, we cannot continue to tolerate racial profiling, police brutality, the loss of future generations to mass incarceration, or the perpetuation of poverty. We affirm the truth that every person is entitled to dignity and equitable justice under law. It is time for the Senate to follow the House in taking a firm stance against racism embedded within the criminal legal system by assuring the EQUAL Act is kept in the Senate’s FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. 

Iowans – Add Your Name Here