Karen Garrison hasn’t celebrated Christmas in years because her sons are imprisoned for crack cocaine offenses. Thanks to a decision this week by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, reports the Associated Press, they could have their prison terms for crack cocaine offenses reduced, and one of them could be home for the holidays next year. The commission voted Tuesday to allow 19,500 federal inmates — most of them black, like Garrison’s sons — to seek reductions in their crack sentences. The easing of the penalties could reunite many black families torn apart by long prison terms. “We know that people in poor neighborhoods, people of color have really borne the brunt of our drug policies,” said Carol Shapiro of Family Justice, an advocacy group.
Four of every five crack defendants are black, while powder-cocaine defendants are largely white. “It’s going to have significant impact on a lot of families who have lost spouses, children, brothers and sisters for very long periods of time,” said Ryan King of the Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to incarceration. Nearly 10 percent of eligible inmates could be released in March, and almost half could be out by 2011. The Justice Department strongly opposed the changes, saying they will cause many problems, especially for communities not ready to receive crack offenders.