Back on the Streets: Releasing Crack Dealers Early

Tuesday in Washington, a plan is being considered that could take thousands of serious drug offenders from prison, and put them on the nation's streets.

It's one of the most racially–sensitive issues in the war on drugs. On Tuesday, the U.S. Sentencing Commission considers whether to apply new, lighter punishments for crack cocaine offenders retroactively. Almost 20,000 federal prisoners would have their terms cut by an average of two years.

The move comes after 2 decades of uneven sentences for drug crimes.
Five grams of crack cocaine, weighing the equivalent of 5 sugar packets, has gotten a person 5 years in prison. A hundred times that of powder cocaine get the same sentence. The chemical properties are the same for both.

But the racial effects are glaring. Four in five crack offenders are black, most powder offenders are white. Some newspapers across the country support more even sentences.

The Bush Administration, though, warns against applying new guidelines to current inmates. Such a mass commutation of terms would be unprecedented. If approved some 2500 prisoners could be released within a year. Many experts expect the plan to go through.

It could bolster support for 3 bills now in the senate: one sponsored by a Democrat and two by Republicans, to cut or eliminate mandatory minimums for drug possession altogether.

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