Federal parole was abolished in 1987, and federal drug convictions frequently result in lengthy, mandatory sentences. Moreover, if the prosecutor includes in the indictment charges carrying mandatory penalties and then refuses to permit a plea to other charges, the defendant has no opportunity to undergo drug treatment as an alternative to imprisonment, since federal law does not offer judges that option.
According to the United States Sentencing Commission, federal courts in 1990 sentenced drug traffickers to an average of 84 months in prison, without possibility of parole. By contrast, state courts in 1988 sentenced drug traffickers to an average maximum sentence of 66 months, resulting in an average time served of only 20 months. Thus, the decision of a prosecutor to bring federal charges, rather than letting the case proceed in state court, can result in a prison term that is years longer than the sentence that would likely result from state prosecution.
That the prosecutorial decision to bring charges in federal, rather than state, court is often exercised to the detriment of minorities is best demonstrated by statistics on crack cocaine prosecutions. In 1986 Congress enacted especially harsh mandatory minimum penalties for these offenses. From 1988-1994, hundreds of blacks and Hispanics – but no whites – were prosecuted by the United