MINOT, N.D. (KXNET) — North Dakota Congressman Kelly Armstrong has been at the forefront of passing the EQUAL Act, as the lead House Republican sponsor, but the Senate has limited legislative days left before the August recess to bring the bill to the floor.
The EQUAL Act is a bill that would eliminate the imbalance between how crack cocaine and powder cocaine distribution is federally prosecuted.
Right now, distributing five grams of crack cocaine is punished at the same rate as distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine.
Since the justice system started to lengthen crack cocaine offenders’ sentences, there has been no change in the distribution rates or use.
“Many people thought they were doing the right thing. Like, let’s punish more harshly, these crack cocaine cases that seem to be really ravaging these communities in our country. But what the data has shown over time, is that there is no major difference between crack cocaine. They’re essentially almost the same drug, nearly chemically identical,” said Heather Rice-Minus, senior vice president of Advocacy for Prison Fellowship.
She says, based on data, when a prison sentence is given justly, it gives the defendant reason to better themselves in prison and not re-offend once their sentence is complete.
“We really believe that fair sentencing is a matter of public safety. That when people own what they’ve done, hold themselves accountable, believe they’re getting a just sentence, they are going to put in that work in prison to come home ready to be good citizens.”
Armstrong vetted the bill and it passed out of the House in September. Right now, the act is being filibustered in the Senate and has not received floor consideration.
“We know with just the number of co-sponsors on the bill, that this bill would pass if it was brought to the floor. So, I think it’s just a matter of prioritizing what legislation is brought to the floor. And helping leadership to understand, this is a safe vote to take, the votes are there, and it’s worth the time,” said Rice-Minus.
Rice-Minus added that passing bills like these will continue to make positive changes in criminal justice reform.
If the Senate passes the EQUAL Act, it would need to be signed by President Joe Biden, who has shown his support.