Law closes gap between crack and powder cocaine sentences, offenders released early

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KMOV.com

Posted on November 9, 2011 at 10:37 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 10 at 4:07 PM

(KMOV) -- More than 12,000 federal convicts who were serving sentences behind bars last month are now out of prison and back in the community.  New crack cocaine sentencing guidelines allowed for the inmates to be released early.

The Fair Sentencing Act closes the gap between recommended sentences for crack versus powder cocaine.

Under the old system dating back to the mid 1980s, anyone convicted in federal court for possession of five grams of crack cocaine received a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. However, it took 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive the same sentence.

A vast majority of the crack defendants were black – about 80 percent. This led to a large racial disparity.

Due to the new law, what was once a 100-1 ratio of crack to powder cocaine is now 18-1. It is estimated that the average offender will have three years shaved off his sentence.

Supporters call the policy change justice overdue. But some wonder if the early release will do more harm than good, especially when it comes to public safety.

Judges review the inmates’ prior convictions and determine whether the inmate poses a danger to the community. Of more than 400 prisoners released in early 2007, less than 7 percent returned to prison.

It is estimated that this program will save the federal government $42 million over the next four years.

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