Iowa is one of 13 states which have separate penalties for possession of crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Critics say the tougher sentences for crack possession are sending more minorities to prison, compared to the lighter sentences for the "elitist" powder cocaine.
Some legislators tried last year to lessen the penalties for crack cocaine, but Gary Kendall of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy says the bills made things way too easy for people caught with crack.
"Some of the bills changed the quantities of crack that were necessary to be criminal violations to the extent that…it did away with the crime," Kendall says. The Senate Judiciary Committee is discussing a bill from Kendall’s office to instead increase penalties for powder cocaine offenses to be equal with crack cocaine convictions.
Critics, like Public Defender Mark Smith, say that could increase the state’s prison population without addressing disproportionate numbers of minorities behind bars. "Public safety is not necessarily served by making people get sentenced to prison longer," Smith says.