Friday, April 25, 2008

Crack cocaine offenders in Western Washington get sentences cut


Thousands of crack cocaine convicts around the country -- including 29 from Western Washington -- have had their prison sentences cut since the federal government eased harsh penalties for crack that critics said were racially biased because the majority of offenders are black.

In December, over the objections of the Justice Department, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to ease the way courts meted out penalties for drug crimes to rectify disparities in the way judges have treated crack crimes versus those involving powder cocaine. Four out of five crack defendants are black, while most powder cocaine convicts are white.

The new sentencing guidelines, which took effect in March, allowed nearly 20,000 people convicted of crack cocaine offenses to seek retroactive reductions in their prison time. About 1,600 federal inmates were eligible for immediate release.

About five inmates from Western Washington have been released so far, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Whalley. He said the cases of two dozen more inmates are being reviewed to determine if they are eligible for sentence reductions.

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