The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) applauds U.S. Congress’ bipartisan passage of legislation to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses last week. The bill passed the Senate in March and now awaits President Obama’s signature.

“The legislation makes significant progress toward parity in criminal penalties for possession and use of crack and powder cocaine,” said Galen Carey, NAE Director of Government Affairs. “While not fully equalizing penalties for the two drugs, the Fair Sentencing Act reduces the disparity and will also reduce the cost to taxpayers of unnecessarily length incarceration.”

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 allows for the quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine to move from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1. Currently, a first-time offense involving as little as five grams of crack cocaine subjects a defendant to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, while an offense involving powder cocaine requires 100 times that quantity to trigger the same sentence.

Data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission revealed that most federal crack cocaine prosecutions have been against low-level dealers. People convicted of crack cocaine offenses, though considered to be local dealers, receive average prison sentences greater than international powder cocaine traffickers. The harsher cocaine penalties have disproportionately affected African American offenders.

In June, the NAE sent a letter to selected House leaders urging them to support the Fair Sentencing Act. “We need to stop wasting precious federal investigators on neighborhood drug dealers when the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department should be going after higher-level traffickers,” said the letter, which was joined by Focus on the Family and Prison Fellowship, among others.

The NAE continues to advocate for comprehensive sentencing reform that punishes criminals while advancing the public interest and requiring criminals to provide restitution to their innocent victims. The NAE also favors prison administration reforms that will protect inmates from rape and sexual abuse.