skip navigation


Register for Latest Research

Stay Informed
Register with NCJRS to receive NCJRS's biweekly e-newsletter JUSTINFO and additional periodic emails from NCJRS and the NCJRS federal sponsors that highlight the latest research published or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs.

NCJRS Abstract

The document referenced below is part of the NCJRS Virtual Library collection. To conduct further searches of the collection, visit the Virtual Library. See the Obtain Documents page for direction on how to access resources online, via mail, through interlibrary loans, or in a local library.


NCJ Number: 170574 Find in a Library
Title: Evolution of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Crack Cocaine: Social Construction and Social Control (From New War on Drugs: Symbolic Politics and Criminal Justice Policy, P 91-106, 1998, Eric L. Jensen and Jurg Gerber, eds. -- See NCJ-170568)
Author(s): R S Everett
Date Published: 1998
Page Count: 16
Sponsoring Agency: Anderson Publishing Co
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Sale Source: Anderson Publishing Co
Publicity Director
2035 Reading Road
Cincinnati, OH 45202
United States of America
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This paper analyzes the creation of Federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine, using a social constructionist theoretical framework to interpret the process.
Abstract: Social constructionists are concerned with how social problems are selected, interpreted, presented, and ultimately addressed through social policies. The notion that crack was more addictive, producing much greater social and psychological damage to individuals, families, and communities, was a prominent theme in early media reports about it. Even in the mid-1980s, clear supporting evidence of this relationship was limited. Built on weak, and in many cases anecdotal evidence, arguments to increase the penalties for crack cocaine were developed in the Crime Control Acts of 1986 and 1988. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, contained within the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, established the basic structure of mandatory minimum sentences based on drug type and weight. First Congress and then the U.S. Sentencing Commission responded to the "plague" of crack cocaine by selecting its users for particularly harsh punishment. The 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act made crack cocaine the only drug with a mandatory minimum penalty for a first offense of simple possession. Stimulated by the emerging Federal sentencing data, arguments of institutional racism and unwarranted sentence disparity appeared in the popular media. In 1995 the U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended that Congress equalize the penalties for the distribution of crack and powder cocaine and treat possession of either in the same manner. Congress rejected this recommendation. The dominance of ideology in the formation of criminal justice policy is clearly revealed in the debate over the punishment for crack and powder cocaine. Sending the appropriate message is considered more important than the actual consequences of criminal justice policy. Rigid adherence to ideology and the fear of seeming "soft on crime" now dominate political discourse and direct criminal justice policy formation. 2 notes
Main Term(s): Drug laws
Index Term(s): Anti-drug Abuse Act of 1988; Crack; Drug Policy; Federal courts; Media coverage; Sentencing disparity; Sentencing guidelines
Note: DCC.
To cite this abstract, use the following link:

*A link to the full-text document is provided whenever possible. For documents not available online, a link to the publisher's website is provided. Tell us how you use the NCJRS Library and Abstracts Database - send us your feedback.