United States Sentencing Commission retroactively reduces crack cocaine sentences
The agency that sets guidelines for federal prison sentences voted unanimously on Tuesday to lighten punishments retroactively for some crimes related to crack cocaine, a decision that could eventually affect about 19,500 inmates and mean freedom for some within months.
The 7-to-0 vote by the United States Sentencing Commission was intended to help narrow the stark disparity that has existed for two decades between sentences for crack cocaine and those linked to the powder form of the drug, a disparity written into law two decades ago when it was widely assumed that crack was more dangerous than the powdered drug.
Since then, experts have concluded that there are more similarities than differences, and many people involved in sentencing have lamented the fact that black people are disproportionately affected by crack-related sentences. Statistics show that about 85 percent of the federal inmates behind bars for crack offenses are black.
This will not affect prisoners whose sentences were determined by Congressionally mandated minimums, and Commissioners said it's up to Congress to change those. They also made clear that this was an issue of fairness, to rectify the racial disparity. The Bush Administration opposed the move- make up your own jokes. Senator Kennedy applauded the decision.
One commission member, Judge Ruben Castillo of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, reminded the audience that the commission first recommended in 1995 that the sentencing disparity involving crack and powdered cocaine be erased in the absence of any data that it made sense.
Twelve more miserable years for victims of unfair laws. For many, there is now hope.