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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Obama Commutes Crack Cocaine Sentences

A pile of crack cocaine ‘rocks’
Last week, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates, six of which were doing life sentences for possession of crack cocaine, The New York Times reports. There is no doubt that under current drug laws all of the inmates would have received less harsh sentences, but in the 1980’s and ‘90’s the state viewed crack cocaine differently than powder cocaine.

In the past, an individual caught with a small amount crack cocaine was charged in the same way as a dealer who sold a 100 times more powder cocaine. The disparity between the two forms of the same drug was enormous, and in some states life sentences were handed out for small amounts of crack cocaine.

In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act was enacted, reducing the disparity from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1. People who are caught with small amounts of crack are no longer subject to mandatory prison sentences of five to 10 years.

In a statement, President Obama said, “Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness. But it must not be the last. In the new year, lawmakers should act on the kinds of bipartisan sentencing reform measures already working their way through Congress. Together, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all.”

Congress is currently considering a bill that would make crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentences retroactive, in line with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Approximately 8,800 federal prisoners, sentenced before August 3, 2010, would be able to petition the court for a sentence in line with the Fair Sentencing Act, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

All eight commuted inmates will be released in 120 days.
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