Crack convicts eligible for early release under retroactive guidelines, P.2

In our previous post, we began discussing new federal sentencing guidelines which took effect on Tuesday. Under the new guidelines, those convicted of crack cocaine offenses will receive minimum sentences which are much closer to the minimum sentences associated with powder cocaine offenses.

As we have pointed out, though, there is still quite a disparity between the minimum sentences associated with crack and powder cocaine offenses. The new guidelines have been hailed as a step in the right direction.

As should be expected, the new guidelines have both supporters and critics. Among the critics are members of Congress who say the Sentencing Commission acted beyond the scope of its authority in making the guidelines retroactive. An estimated 12,000 inmates are expected to be eligible for reduced sentences and early release under the new guidelines. That retroactivity took effect on Tuesday. The Sentencing Commission has said that inmates will, on average, have three years shaved off their sentences.

Prison reform advocates are also among the critics of the new guidelines. They say that the new guidelines, while they are an improvement over the old sentencing system, have not gone far enough in punishing similar offenses with similar sentences. As we noted last time, crack offenses are still punished 18 times more harshly than powder cocaine offenses. That is a great improvement over the old system, where a person convicted of possessing 5 grams of crack could expect a minimum 5 year sentence, whereas somebody convicted of possessing 500 grams of powdered cocaine could expect a similar sentence.

While the new guidelines do reduce the gap between cocaine offenses, there is clearly still room for improvement.


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