WASHINGTON –Thousands of federal prisoners locked up for offenses involving crack cocaine will be eligible for early release following today's vote by the United States Sentencing Commission to apply the Fair Sentencing Act guidelines retroactively to those currently serving sentences for crack cocaine charges.
Under the Fair Sentencing Act passed last year, the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity, which falls disproportionately on African-Americans, was lowered from 100:1 to 18:1. However, those currently incarcerated for crack cocaine were unaffected and continue to serve their sentences under the previous sentencing guidelines.
The commission was created by Congress to establish sentencing guidelines that would bring uniformity to federal sentencing. The commission’s guidelines were mandatory until the Supreme Court held in 2005 that a mandatory scheme violated the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial and made the guidelines advisory. Now that the new Fair Sentencing Act guidelines can be applied retroactively, federal judges across the country will determine whether crack cocaine offenders are eligible for a reduction in their sentence.
Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office said, "The sentencing commission absolutely did the right thing today with this historic vote. By giving those serving excessive sentences for crack cocaine an opportunity to have their sentences reduced, this vote will help to finish the work started by the Fair Sentencing Act. This decision will help ensure that over 12,000 people – 85% of whom are African-Americans – have the opportunity to have their sentences for crack cocaine offenses reduced."
Murphy added, “Making these new guidelines retroactive will offer relief to thousands of people s who received unfair sentences under the old crack cocaine law. However, despite today’s victory, sizeable racial and sentencing disparities still exist, and it is time for our country to seriously rethink mandatory minimums and a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing. Based on little more than politics and urban myth, the sentencing gap between powder and crack cocaine has been devastating to our African-American communities.”