12K Crack Offenders Eligible for Early Release
One in 17 prisoners could be released as early as November
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 1, 2011 11:53 AM CDT
In this Oct. 10, 2006 file photo, a Los Angeles police officer counts the number of doses of crack cocaine, in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.   (Damian Dovarganes)
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(Newser) – As many as 12,000 people in federal prison for crack-related crimes can get their sentences reduced as a result of a new law that brought the penalties for the drug more closely in line with those for powdered cocaine, a government commission decided yesterday. The decision by the US Sentencing Commission applies to approximately one in 17 inmates in the federal system. Congress last year substantially lowered the sentences for crack-related crimes such as possession and trafficking, changing a 1980s law that was criticized as racially discriminatory because it came down extra hard on a drug common in poor, black neighborhoods.

Now those already locked up under the old law will be able to benefit retroactively from the reduction in sentences. The NAACP was among the groups praising the commission's unanimous action. About 85% of the inmates expected to benefit from the decision are black. Prisoners will have to petition a judge for a sentence reduction, and requests will be decided on a case-by-case basis, with the court taking into consideration the defendant's behavior in prison and danger to society. The earliest anyone could get out is November, and the average reduction is expected to be about three years.