Stateline Story

Missouri is Toughest on Crack Cocaine

CRACK VS. POWDER: Congress and 13 states consider the possession of relatively small amounts of crack cocaine tantamount to the possession of large amounts of the powder form of the same drug. Under federal law, for example, someone convicted of possessing five grams of crack is subject to the same criminal penalty as someone convicted of possessing 18 times that amount in powder. Of the states that draw their own distinctions between the two forms of cocaine, Missouri is by far the most punitive, The Sentencing Project notes in a new report . Someone convicted of selling six grams of crack in Missouri is subject to the same mandatory 10-year prison term as someone found guilty of selling 75 times that amount, or 450 grams, in powder. Supporters of such disparities say crack is more addictive and dangerous than powder and deserves to be punished more severely. Critics say the laws are racially biased because crack is more common in minority communities.

POLICE CONSOLIDATION: New Jersey is well-known for its sprawling network of local governments. The state has 566 municipalities and 591 school districts, and governors of both parties have proposed consolidating duplicative government services as a way to cut taxpayer costs. But getting municipalities and their residents to agree has been tough; local services are popular. Republican Governor Chris Christie is the latest to try, teaming up with Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney to urge municipalities in Camden County to share police and fire services. Fears over crime are influencing the discussions. In January, the city of Camden — already one of the most dangerous in the nation — laid off nearly half its police force and a third of its firefighters. Now, The Associated Press says, " a potential crime-fighting crisis is brewing ." State leaders say a consolidated, countywide policing approach in Camden could improve public safety while cutting costs.

PROBATION UNDER SCRUTINY: Ten offenders under the supervision of Colorado probation agents have been charged with murder or attempted murder in the last nine months, The Denver Post reports . " The crimes include the March 18 fatal shooting of a college football player in Boulder, the killing of a Weld County sheriff's deputy and the death of a 16-year-old Denver girl who was mutilated," according to the newspaper. The crime spree has put the state probation department under a microscope at a time when state lawmakers have been considering expanding community supervision options as a cheaper alternative to prison beds.

'TURNING TIDE': There is a "turning tide" in the way the U.S. criminal justice system handles young offenders, according to a report of changes made by state legislatures over the last five years . Fewer states are trying youths under 18 years old in adult court and fewer are keeping them in adult jails and prisons, according to the study by the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group. Between 2005 and 2010, Connecticut , Illinois and Mississippi raised the age at which offenders are automatically sent to adult court. Colorado , Maine , Virginia and Pennsylvania limited the practice of housing youths in adult correctional facilities. Other states updated their sentencing laws to reflect "developmental differences" between youths and adults or revised laws to ensure that incarcerated youths can stay in the juvenile system, rather than be transferred to adult facilities. Nationally, the report notes, an estimated 250,000 children are "prosecuted, sentenced or incarcerated as adults every year," including some as young as 7.

Tags: Justice