An unnamed White House official has told Yahoo! News that President Barack Obama is preparing to grant clemency to “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of people who have been imprisoned for non-violent drug violations.
This news comes a few months after the administration’s announcement that it has encouraged defense attorneys to suggest inmates who should be considered for early release from prison. This indicates that the Obama administration will continue in its efforts to curtail severe penalties in low-level drug cases.
Late last year, President Obama commuted the sentences of nine people serving time in federal prison for non-violent offenses involving crack cocaine, saying that they had been sentenced under an “unfair system.” There is a huge disparity in sentences handed down between crack and powder cocaine offenses. This has been reduced somewhat by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which brought a long-sought reduction in the penalties for crack cocaine.
The earlier sentencing guidelines, enacted in 1986 (at the peak of the panic over crack), set a five-year minimum sentence for possession of five grams of crack, then worth about $500. Meanwhile, the same penalty applied to those convicted for half a kilogram of powder cocaine, which had a street value of more than $8,000. The results were that federal prosecutors primarily went after small-time dealers and users. Back in 2005, about 55 percent of federal crack cocaine defendants were street dealers.
The Fair Sentencing Act raised the quantity of crack needed to trigger the five-year minimum from five grams to an ounce, and its guidance applies retroactively for many of those already convicted. Yet, only about half the 24,000 federal prisoners serving time for crack cocaine offenses were eligible to have their sentences reduced.
– Read the entire article at AlterNet.