The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted Thursday to let reduced penalties for crack-cocaine crimes apply to thousands of inmates already serving time for their crimes.
The 6-0 vote by the panel that sets the sentencing guidelines that federal judges use could impact as many as 12,040 inmates, commission research shows. Offenders sentenced between Oct. 1, 1991, and Sept. 30, 2010, are eligible to seek reduced sentences.
The releases, which all must be approved by a federal judge, would be spread out over 30 years. About one-third of them, if approved, would come by November 2012. The average sentence would be reduced to 127 months from 164 months.
Under the old law, a defendant faced a minimum five-year sentence if convicted of possessing at least five grams of crack. Possession of 50 grams brought a minimum of 10 years. It took 500 grams and 5,000 grams respectively of powder cocaine to bring the same sentences.
Prima facie, it's doubtful this is going to gain much traction. Most of the releases will be staggered, so unlike California's release of 30,000 inmates en masse, these 12,000 federal inmates will trickle out over 30 years, basically sight unseen.
But don't expect the "get tough" types to go away silently. I wouldn't be surprised if this surfaces as a political issue ("Obama and them granolas on the left coast are releasing crack whores and criminals!") for 2012.
Law enforcement and some lawmakers had vehemently opposed retroactivity of the reduced sentences. In a letter to Judge Saris, 13 Republican House and Senate members wrote the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 "makes no mention of retroactivity. That is by design.''
"It is not titled The Fair Sentencing Act for All Years," the lawmakers wrote.
LOL. So we should only be fair in sentencing criminals some years, not "All Years." Natch.
As I noted in my other post today, after a 25 year bender, drunk on incarceration, we seemed to have sobered up and are now stumbling towards sobriety in our criminal justice and sentencing policies.
If this keeps up, what will I have to talk about?