Social Stratification Disparity in Sentencing Laws

“Lawlessness in sentencing” is a good term for sentencing where there are no guidelines that take away judge’s ability to sentence individuals differently for the same crimes at their own discretion. Conversely, judges can give identical sentences when the circumstances of the same crimes are vastly different.  Literally, there is no law guiding judges in these cases, making sentencing disparity a vulnerable to all types of human bias: political, religious, racial and personal.

Disparity is different from discrimination, yet it is a major tool or gateway for those who wish to give unequal and unfairly differerent treatment to others. This is why the terms are often used interchangeably when it comes to sentencing trends.

The crack, vs powder cocaine issue gets the most attention when it comes to the massive amount of disparate sentencing and the irrefutable unfairness that is statistically supporte.

On August 3, 2010, President Obama signed the “Fairness in Sentencing” act. This act finally takes measures to reduce the disparity in sentences between crimes related to use or possession of crack cocaine as opposed to powder cocaine. But the generations of damage has already been done since the Reagan era. The major features of this act include ending the mandatory five year minimum for first simple first time possession, and the increase in the amount of crack that allows 5 and 10 year minimum sentences. 

The college cocaine dealers who sold powder cocaine have gone on to careers in family films, banking and so on, while their classmates who possessed enough crack cocaine for their own use went on to lives of permanent stigmatization and assignment to the lowest caste in American society. That there is an obvious and distinct racial, class or ethnic component to the differences between crack and powder cocaine users added fuel to the fire, and disparity in sentencing was forever labeled as a class, race and ethnic issue.

The greed of the private prison industries, who lobbied fiercely for draconian and disparate sentencing laws is well known. With more sentencing, the inductries got more “product”, while they lobbied equally fiercely for more privatization of prison functions.

Law enforcement has been clearly documented for years on the “Cops” reality show as profiling, trolling through and targeting poor areas and non white populations while knowing that powder cocaine use is in epidemic proportions in the wealthier and white communities, even reaching into the ranks of law enforcement and among their own families.

As a result, a machine, comprised of lawmakers, private prison industries, law enforcement practices and judicial “lawlessness in sentencing” created a perfect system for rounding up and funneling “product” that stays as “product” through endless cycles of addiction, lack of opportunity after lengthy prison sentences, and return to prison until death.

Remarkably, even pro prison lawmakers came to agreement in order to pass the Fairness In Sentencing Act, admitting that the disparity, at least in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine, has been grossly destructive and unfair to the black community. It is too late, however. Generations of some have been ruined while others have been allowed to move on.

Other disparities in sentencing are quite profound, especially in death penalty sentencing for men vs women and white vs non white and in various regions of the country, particularly Texas, where several outrageous cases of  White on Black or Hispanic killings have gone with no comparable significant punishment, while the reverse has lead to quite different sentencing outcomes.

In these cases, national, regional and local disparity in the quality, ethics, level of corruption, conflict of interest and conduct of judges is more the issue when it comes to gross disparity and unfairness in criminal sentencing.