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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    About 1,900 inmates are being freed across the US this week following a federal policy change meant to correct discrepancies between sentences for possession of crack and powder cocaine.

    About 1,900 inmates are being freed across the US this week following a federal policy change that is easing sentencing rules for crack cocaine possession.

    The new law lessens the sentencing by at least three years, a change meant to bring penalties surrounding the drug closer to those meted out for powder cocaine users.

    The disproportionate penalties between the two drugs originated from fears that crack cocaine was more addictive than its powder form and linked to more violent crime. The distinction has subsequently been debunked and has been criticized for being racist, as powder cocaine users tend to be white.

    Congress passed the change, titled the Fair Sentencing Act, last year. The US Sentencing Commission voted in June to make the law retroactive for prisoners currently in prison waiting out sentences based on the former sentencing rules. The reason, said US Sentencing Commission Chair Judge Patti Saris, was to recognize “the fundamental unfairness of federal cocaine sentencing policy.”

    Although the policy change was made last summer, Tuesday marked the first day prisoners could get immediate release from federal prison. About 12,000 prisoners will be released over the next three years; 1,900 of those are eligible for release immediately.

    One former inmate, Antwain Black, returned to his home in Springfield, Ill., Tuesday after serving over eight years in a federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., for dealing crack cocaine. Mr. Black was originally scheduled to end his prison term in October 2013.

    He told the Associated Press Tuesday that the former sentencing rules unfairly targeted black defendants.

    “I didn’t think it was fair and I still don’t think it’s fair … I know guys who aren’t coming home, still, because of these laws that were placed upon a certain race of people,” he said.

    Under the revised policy, a federal judge must approve the reductions from a list prepared by the public defender’s office while federal prosecutors can object based on the defendant’s prior conduct. The reductions are expected to happen without new hearings.

    The US Federal Bureau of Prisons says there is not yet data on exactly how many former inmates are being released this week, but ancillary reports from various public defender’s offices suggest that the procedure to secure the early releases is swift.

    In St. Louis, about 50 people are expected to walk free by Wednesday. The eastern district of Virginia will release about 75 people, while San Antonio, Texas, is releasing at least 20.

    The revised sentencing rules mean that, in order to receive the minimum sentencing of five years, a person needs to possess 28 grams of crack cocaine, an increase from 5 grams. The 10-year sentencing requires 280 grams, an increase from 50 grams.

    Despite the new change, there remains disparity in sentencing rules between both forms of cocaine: a 5-year powder cocaine conviction requires offenses involving 500 grams.

    The new restrictions are for federal offenses only; people found guilty of crack cocaine offenses under state laws are not eligible for early release.

    While the sentencing revisions are perceived as a way to undo an injustice laced with a racial undertone, Ryan Scott, a law professor at the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University in Bloomington, says the Congressional Black Caucus originally supported the earlier sentencing legislation as it was seen as a way to prevent further erosion of the country’s inner-city neighborhoods.

    “It wasn’t exclusively intended as a way of punishing black offenders. There was real concern about the victims as well,” Mr. Scott told the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind.

    By Mark Guarino, Staff writer
    November 2, 2011



  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Federal authorities, defense lawyers revisiting thousands of crack cocaine cases

    Tupelo, Miss. — Six years ago, Dennis Rogers of Lee County turned himself in to begin a nine-year prison sentence.

    He'd been convicted of a 2005 federal crack cocaine charge in the Northern District of Mississippi.

    Four years later, when he was 57, federal policies changed, and his sentence was reduced to about seven years.

    Today, Rogers and thousands of others — mostly black men — convicted on crack cocaine charges have federal judges throughout the country considering new requests to reduce their sentences.

    Many, like Rogers, ask for their immediate release for "time served." Others could see their sentences sharply reduced.

    Gregory S. Park, a federal public defender in Oxford, said his office has been very busy recently.

    "Our priority was to seek the immediate release for those eligible, to get their cases handled first," Park said Wednesday.

    He also said he expects more filings, perhaps more than 100 before it's over.

    Tuesday was the first day inmates locked up under old crack cocaine sentencing guidelines could get out early.

    In North Mississippi, the federal court docket shows more than a dozen requests by inmates to have their time reduced.

    Agencies in the region are conferring about the eligible cases and seeking to determine how many they have.

    "We, along with the Federal Public Defender's Office and others, are in the process of identifying federal inmates prosecuted in our district that may be eligible for a sentence reduction pursuant to the Fair Sentencing Act," said William "Chad" Lamar, chief of the U.S. Attorney's Office's Criminal Division in Oxford.

    Park confirmed the joint effort and said none of the parties knows yet how many inmates may be affected.

    All this change comes from Congress' vote last year to ease federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine. The measure is called the Fair Sentencing Act.

    Although the act affects all future crack cocaine convictions, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to make the new guidelines retroactive. It does not affect people sentenced under state drug laws.

    "We, along with the Federal Public Defender's Office and others, are in the process of identifying federal inmates prosecuted in our district that may be eligible for a sentence reduction pursuant to the Fair Sentencing Act," said William "Chad" Lamar, chief of the U.S. Attorney's Office's Criminal Division in Oxford.

    It potentially changed punishments set back in the 1980s, when a crack epidemic raged across the U.S., and Congress reacted by setting crack cocaine penalties 100 times more severe than penalties for cocaine in its powder form.

    "Many of the misconceptions about crack, compared to powder, were shown to be inaccurate," Park said.

    Tupelo attorney Rob Laher, who's defended clients on cocaine charges, said the initial, harsher sentences came from a belief that crack cocaine was more addictive and fueled violence.

    Because crack was cheaper and more pervasive in minority neighborhoods, the vast majority of convictions involved African-Americans. Many were locked up for decades.

    "The law wasn't aimed at minorities, but ultimately it turned out most of the defendants were black or Hispanic," Laher said.

    Kevin Dion Wiley from Benton County is another one — convicted in January 1995 on two counts of possession with intent to sell more than 50 grams of crack cocaine.

    First, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison, then the 2007 sentencing amendment allowed the court to drop his time to 211/2 years.

    Under the new guidelines, he could be released immediately.

    Park said, regardless of filing the necessary paperwork and agreements between the various agencies, it's still up to a federal judge to approve the requests.

    In some instances, hearings may be needed to present pertinent information.

    The procedure also means that all those eligible for "time served" release won't be getting out at the same time.

    Authorities say as many as 12,000 people are eligible to ask for reduced prison time.

    In Dennis Rogers' Nov. 1 sentence reduction motion, Park said under the new guidelines Rogers is eligible for a sentence range of 51-63 months - well below the six years he's already served.

    Park said that after his office, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Probation Service agree on who else is eligible, the inmates will be informed that they may request the change.

    "It's rare to see anybody not want early release," he said.

    Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
    First Posted: November 04, 2011

  2. Terrapinzflyer
    More than 500 freed from prison on the first day prison terms for crack crimes are eased

    WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Prisons says more than 500 people were released from custody Tuesday as a result of new, lowered sentences for crack cocaine crimes.

    Spokesman Chris Burke says the change freed 526 people from federal prisons nationwide on the first day it went into effect. Burke said Wednesday that officials were still receiving orders from judges directing the immediate release of prisoners based on new sentence guidelines.

    Burke could not say how many inmates were released overall Tuesday, including releases scheduled for other reasons. But by comparison, a total of 211 inmates were released on the same day last year.

    The change in sentencing guidelines for crack crimes is eventually estimated to benefit some 12,000 inmates, reducing sentences by an average of three years.

    Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    By Associated Press,
    Published: November 2

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