Vera Institute of Justice on the Fight to End the Federal Sentencing Disparity Between Crack and Powder Cocaine

This week, the 117th Congress concluded its work without passing the EQUAL Act to permanently and retroactively eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. This came after months of bipartisan negotiation and despite previous approval of the bill with overwhelming support in the U.S. House of Representatives, where 143 Republicans joined 218 Democrats to pass the EQUAL Act over a year ago. The U.S. Department of Justice issued prosecutorial guidance on December 16, calling for an end to this disparate sentencing practice for future cases in the federal system, but this guidance cannot be applied retroactively and can be revoked by future administrations.

Nick Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice, issued the following statement:

“We are frustrated and disappointed by Congress’s failure to pass the EQUAL Act, despite significant bipartisan support in both chambers. It is unconscionable that anyone will remain behind bars because of this unscientific, racist, and indefensible disparity in federal law. While we commend the Biden administration for the guidance issued by Attorney General Garland to federal prosecutors calling for elimination of higher sentences for crack offenses, this only underlines the failure of Congress to do its part in permanently righting the wrongs of our flawed justice system.

We are grateful for the leadership of Senator Cory Booker and Leader-elect Hakeem Jeffries throughout the 117th Congress in shedding light on the injustice and irrationality of the crack and powder cocaine disparity and are saddened that their efforts were ultimately in vain. We look forward to continuing the fight for the permanent elimination of longer sentences for crack offenses during the 118th Congress, undeterred in our pursuit of justice and an end to policies that fuel mass incarceration and produce demonstrably unfair outcomes for Black people.”


About the Vera Institute of Justice
The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit

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