President Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates who had been convicted of crack cocaine offenses, The New York Times reports. Six of the inmates were sentenced to life in prison. All eight inmates will be released in 120 days.
The inmates likely would have received much shorter terms under current drug laws and sentencing rules, the article notes.
While powder and crack cocaine are two forms of the same drug, until recently, a drug dealer who sold crack cocaine was subject to the same sentence as a dealer who sold 100 times as much powder cocaine.
The Fair Sentencing Act, enacted in 2010, reduced the disparity from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, for people who committed their crimes after the law took effect. As a result, many defendants who are caught with small amounts of crack are no longer subject to mandatory prison sentences of five to 10 years. Those convicted of crack-cocaine crimes tend to be black, while those convicted of powder-cocaine offenses tend to be white.
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.”
A bill under consideration by Congress would make changes to crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentences in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive. This would allow approximately 8,800 federal prisoners who were sentenced before August 3, 2010, to mandatory minimum terms for crack cocaine crimes to petition the court for a sentence in line with the Fair Sentencing Act, according to the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums.