The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s more lenient penalties for crack cocaine should be made retroactive, editorializes the Washington Post. The newspaper said such a policy “would bring some measure of equity to thousands of offenders — roughly 85 percent of them African American men — already serving unjustifiably long prison terms.” The commisison has estimated that 19,500 prisoners would be eligible for reduced sentences.
The Justice Department and some police worry that allowing early release for so many crack offenders would affect public safety, but the evidence suggests the worries are overblown, the Post says. Any reduced sentence must be approved by a federal judge, who may take into account a prisoner’s criminal history and other factors. Federal prosecutors may object to a particular prisoner’s sentence reduction. On the law in general, the Post says there are good arguments for why crack should carry tougher sentences than powder cocaine, “including the fact that crack is ferociously addictive and destructive.” A 100-to-1 disparity in sentencing is irrational, says the newspaper, urging Congress to narrow the gap.