Ok, so here's a potential $200 million savings in federal spending that I bet some Republicans won't like. The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted today to apply this sentencing reform, passed last year by Congress, to some 12,000 inmates retroactively, giving them the opportunity to seek sentencing reduction.
The Fair Sentencing Act, signed into law in August 2010, was an effort to reduce the huge disparity in punishment of those convicted with cocaine possession or use versus those caught with crack. The law gets rid of so-called “mandatory minimums” and knocks down the disparity in length of sentences from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1. So punishment for crack offenders is now 18 times as harsh as it is for cocaine offenders.
Today's vote applies to people charged before the Fair Sentencing Act was signed, and it's no get out of jail free card; a judge will examine the record and decide whether or not to permit sentencing reduction and early release. Still, one can count on a Republican's knee to jerk in response to a proposal like this. Texas Republican Lamar Smith is quoted in opposition. I'm guessing he won't care about the Commission's estimate that it could save the gov't $200 million over the next five years.
Early release, his letter says, “merely gets criminals back into action faster.”
No surprise there; he was already on record against the Fair Sentencing Act in the first place. But leave it to conservative Republicans to find things like facts, statistics and math challenging.
In 2002, the United States Sentencing Commission "found that the ratio was created based upon a misperception of the dangers of crack cocaine, which had since been proven to have a less drastic effect than previously thought." In 2009, the U.S. Sentencing Commission introduced figures stating that no class of drug is as racially skewed as crack in terms of numbers of offenses. According to the data, 79% of 5,669 sentenced crack offenders were black, while only 10% were white and 10% were Hispanic. The figures for the 6,020 powder cocaine convictions, in contrast, were as follows: 17% of these offenders were white, 28% were black, and 53% were Hispanic. Combined with a 115-month average imprisonment for crack offenses, compared with an average of 87 months for cocaine offenses, the sentencing disparity results in more African-Americans spending more time in the prison system.
Interesting to see that this idea started with some bills sponsored by other Republicans, but then, during the Bush administration, they were the ones in charge. But Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who tried a bill in 2001, was a cosponsor to the The Fair Sentencing Act, credit where it's due.
Anyway, nice to see some folks may be getting out of prison. There are so many.