Crack convicts eligible for early release under retroactive guidelines, P.1

Around 1,800 prison inmates convicted of crack-related offenses became eligible for early release on Tuesday under changes in federal sentencing guidelines. Those eligible for early release were convicted under sentencing guidelines dating back to the 1980s, which treated crack offenses harshly in comparison to other cocaine related offenses.

Under the old guidelines, crack related offenses received a minimum sentence 100 times harsher than the minimum sentence for powder cocaine offenses. Last August, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity to make crack offenses punished 18 times more harshly. While the new guidelines are being celebrated by supporters as an improvement, they have not yet achieved equality of sentencing between the offenses.

One of the big problems with the old guidelines is that they unfairly implicated a large number of low-level and nonviolent offenders, mostly African Americans. During the 1980s, when the guidelines were passed, the crack epidemic was raging and Congress sought to target communities that form of the drug. Because crack was widely available and cheap in African American communities, the law adversely affected those populations. According to sources, the majority of crack cocaine convictions involve African Americans who were found to have possessed or distributed the drug.

Advocates say that the new guidelines say that the unfair treatment of African Americans in regard to cocaine offenses is significantly improved by the new guidelines, though not completely. The new guidelines were widely supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, though some Republicans did support the bill as a way to correct the sentencing disparity.

In our next post, we'll keep looking at this story.


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