Drug Policy

More Good News on Crack Sentences

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Yesterday the Supreme Court said judges who disagree with the way crack offenses are treated under the federal sentencing guidelines have the discretion to impose penalties closer to those recommended for offenses involving equivalent amounts of cocaine powder. Today the U.S. Sentencing Commission decided to retroactively apply recent guideline changes that shrank the disparity between crack and cocaine powder. That means crack offenders sentenced prior to November 1, when the changes took effect, can apply for resentencing. Families Against Mandatory Minimums says retroactivity applies to nearly 20,000 prisoners, about 2,250 of whom could be eligible for release within a year.

Neither the Supreme Court ruling nor the sentencing commission's decision affects the five- and 10-year statutory mandatory minimums for crack offenses, which continue to treat smoked cocaine as if it were 100 times as bad as snorted cocaine. Only Congress can change those penalties.