First Inmates Freed in Crack Overhaul

More than 3,000 eligible for release this year under new sentencing guidelines
By Lucas Laursen,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 5, 2008 3:19 PM CST
U.S. Sentencing Commission Chairman Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa speaks during a meeting at which commission members voted voted unanimously to allow some 19,500 federal prison inmates, most of them black,...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Federal prisons are beginning to release prisoners to comply with new crack-cocaine sentencing guidelines, the Washington Post reports. The US Sentencing Commission made more than 3,000 inmates eligible for release this year by voting in December to even out punishments for crack-cocaine offenses against those involving powdered cocaine; crack sentences had been 100 times harsher, though the drugs are nearly the same.

The White House opposed making the new rules retroactive, saying it would bog down courts with applications for early releases and put violent offenders back on the streets—though statistics show about 90% of both cocaine and crack crimes were non-violent. Congressional panels refused Justice Department requests to overrule the commission's decision, which took effect Monday.