Jacob Sullum on Two Moves Toward Freeing People Who Don't Belong in Prison


Crack Open the Door

In 2010 Congress reduced the arbitrary sentencing disparity between the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine, but the changes did not apply retroactively, so thousands of nonviolent offenders continue to serve prison terms that nearly everyone now agrees are excessive. Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would allow such prisoners to petition for resentencing under the new rules, and the Justice Department announced that President Obama, who so far has shortened the sentences of nine crack offenders, would like to issue more such commutations. Jacob Sullum says these simultaneous moves by the legislative and executive branches suggest that, nearly three decades after Congress created draconian crack penalties, some of the lives wrecked by that punitive panic may yet be salvaged.