The House has passed a bill that would reduce the disparity in prison sentences for crack possession, compared to those caught with cocaine. Since 1986, those convicted of crack possession get sentenced to time that is much harsher than what they'd get for cocaine -- which is surprising since they're basically the same drug.
More blacks tend to use crack, so the rule has had a deeper impact on black communities. Legislators set this up originally because they were trying to help those communities -- thinking that tougher penalties would discourage drug use. Instead, critics say, tougher crack sentencing has fed more African-Americans into the penal system. Instead of getting treatment, their problems with drug use get worse.
The new bill, once it's signed by the president, will also do away with the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for first-timers caught with crack. Congress hasn't killed a federal mandatory minimum since Nixon was president, the AP notes.