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Some convicted of crack cocaine crimes may be released early

In August 2010, Congress voted to pass the Fair Sentencing Act in order to make sentencing guidelines for drug crimes involving crack cocaine closer in scope to prison sentences handed down for crimes involving powder cocaine. Before the passage of the new law, the disparity between prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine was 100 to 1.

The sentences are not the same now, but they are closer at 18 to 1. Congress also voted to make the new guidelines retroactive, and the retroactivity went into effect Tuesday.

It was long argued for the last twenty years that the disparity in the punishments for such similar crimes was unfair to African-Americans because the majority of people convicted of crimes involving crack cocaine are African American.

Under the old guidelines, a person convicted of possession of five grams of crack would go to jail for a minimum of five years. Someone would have to be caught with 500 grams of cocaine to get the same sentence.

Some people were released as early as Tuesday because they had already served enough time. According to CNN, more than 12,000 people currently jailed for drug crimes involving crack cocaine are eligible to apply for reduced sentences.

Source: CNN, "New rules slashing crack cocaine sentences go into effect," Carol Cratty, Nov. 1, 2011

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