Holder proposes changes to crack sentences

June 2, 2011 at 10:19 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 2 (UPI) -- U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says he backs a proposal to grant about 5,500 people sentenced to prison for crack cocaine an early release from custody.

Holder said he supports the early release because there is virtually no difference between cocaine power and crack cocaine, yet the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine result in more severe penalties for a class of offenders who are often poor and black.

The Los Angeles Times reported more than 12,000 federal prisoners, about 6 percent of the inmates in the overcrowded U.S. prison system, could be affected by the proposed change. However, the proposed change would only be considered among detainees whose crimes didn't involve the use of weapons or among prisoners with long criminal histories.

Those impacted would have their sentences reduced by about 37 months and the early releases could begin later this year, the report said.

The relief is justified, Holder said, because there is "no meaningful pharmacological difference between the two drugs" and "large percentages" of low-level crack dealers are serving long sentences designed for serious traffickers.

"There is simply no just or logical reason why their punishments should be dramatically more severe than those of other cocaine offenders," Holder said.

Holder noted that many crack offenders are poor and black, while those sentenced for use of cocaine powder tended to be white.

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