Thousands of prisoners face early release on crack-cocaine convictions …New federal law reduces sentences by average of three years
Thousands of federal inmates will get early releases from prison after sweeping changes to the sentences handed down for crack-cocaine convictions.
Congress voted in favor of reducing the harsh penalties for the possession or distribution of crack last year, bringing them more in line with the sentences for powder cocaine.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission determined the new rules should be retroactive and they finally took effect Tuesday, meaning an estimated 1,900 were eligible for immediate release.
In total, more than 12,000 people currently behind bars are now able to ask for reduced sentences.
On average, prisoners convicted of crack-cocaine offenses will have three years taken off their prison time.
Tougher sentences for crack, as opposed to powder cocaine, were first introduced in the 1980s when the drug swept America.
The result was that a person found dealing or possessing crack got the same mandatory prison term as someone with 100 times the amount of powdered cocaine.
Lawyers and civil rights advocates objected to the sentencing disparity, claiming crack was a drug that disproportionately affected the black community, whereas powder cocaine offences were more likely to affect whites.
“I did more than enough time,” said Antwain Black, 36, who returned to his Springfield, Ill., home from Leavenworth prison two years early Tuesday.
“I feel like I can win this time. I’m a better man today than I was then.”
A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons said officials were trying to process as many cases as possible, after receiving orders from judges granting inmates early release.
Each individual will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and good behavior and threat to society will also be taken into account.
The changes do not apply to people found guilty of crack offenses under state laws.
“It’s a blessing just to see [my friends and family] smile, for me to be home,” said Black, who served 8 1/2 years after pleading guilty in 2003 to dealing crack.
“It lets me know I am loved.
“It’s been a long ride, too. It’s been a while. They held fast for me. I’ve got a lot of people counting on me so I’ve got to fly right this time.”