Attorney General Eric Holder today called for the reform of the U.S. crack-powder sentencing law to be applied retroactively. He spoke to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which is considering the change. Last year, Congress modified the nearly quarter-century-old 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, making the difference 18-1. However, it was not clear how the law would affect people charged before it took effect.
Holder noted that in 2008, after the commission applied retroactively an amendment that reduced the base offense level for crack by two levels – known as the "crack minus two" amendment – some predicted that that the move would cause a dramatic rise in crime rates. As a study released by the commission yesterday shows, Holder said, those whose sentences were reduced after that amendment was applied retroactively actually had a slightly lower rate of recidivism than the study's control group. Holder said the commission should be able to make the law retroactive without congressional action. The Associated Press reported that making the sentencing law retroactive could bring early release for as many as 1 in every 18 federal prisoners, or about 12,000 inmates.