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Many activists are cautiously optimistic as news came down yesterday that Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. is supporting a proposal that would retroactively correct sentencing disparities between those convicted in crack and powder cocaine drug offenses. If adopted, the proposal would affect nearly 5,500 non-violent inmates and could go into effect as early as November 1.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the proposal sets out to correct unequal and unreasonably harsh prison sentences handed down for crack cocaine convictions.

The LA Times reports:

The proposal is intended to remedy a legacy of the war on drugs that meted out much harsher sentences to crack cocaine users, who are mostly black, than to powder cocaine users, often white and sometimes affluent. Congress changed the sentencing law last year but did not address the fate of thousands of prisoners already sentenced under the old system or arrested just before the law was changed.

Although some conservatives are opposed to the measure, activists predict that it will soon go into effect, correcting illogical disparities that have disproportionally affected minorities.

“For many African Americans,” Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, said, “this fundamental unfairness has undermined the legitimacy of the criminal justice system.”

Harsher punishments for crack cocaine came at the height of the drug wars of the ‘80s. Legislation was rushed through Congress in 1986, and tied the hands of judges, forcing them to hand down severe mandatory sentences for those caught with crack cocaine.

The LA Times reports:

Without time to study the issue, Congress wrote into law specific penalties for different versions of the same drug. Someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine or 5 grams of crack cocaine would get five years in prison. Possession of 5,000 grams of powder cocaine called for a mandatory 10-year term. The same was true for 50 grams of crack cocaine.

Because there is “no meaningful pharmacological difference” between crack and powder cocaine, the sentencing disparities were unjustified. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder testified before a congressional panel saying, “There is simply no just or logical reason why their punishments should be dramatically more severe than those of other cocaine offenders.”

If the amendments are approved, non-violent drug offenders and their lawyers can begin petitioning the court for a reduced sentence beginning November 1. Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project estimates that most inmates will see a reduction of approximately 37 months off of their current sentences.

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  • JustSaying…

    Typical of a black man…now watch the rise of drugs take over the nation’s ghettos. Get ready for the second coming of the crack cocaine epidemic and mass violence. I swear next time I’m voting Republican.

  • @JustSaying…

    Drugs are already all over the nation’s ghettos, and drugs aren’t the only thing keeping people in the ghettos.

    Also, next time don’t vote “Republican” OR “Democrat”–vote for individuals whose ideologies align with yours.

  • minna k.

    As scary as some may appear to be, I think that drug abusers need rehab and not jail. They need more positive coping tools to work through their addictions, and the pain/ trauma that they try to suppress through the chemical dependency. Society should take care of everyone. Our prison system is not good for anyone especially those with substance abuse issues.

    Jail has been an easier solution to “clean up” the streets. However if the bill passes, I hope there will be more to offer than just putting people out of jail to fend for themselves, or to be a burden to their families, only to end up right back where they began.

  • Clnmike

    About time, I thought this was settled when 3 years ago, I didn’t know the law was not made to be retro active. Hopefully they have a plan set up for bringing them back into the community. In this economy the temptation to fall into old habits will be high.