Federal judges in Massachusetts have begun ordering the release of prisoners convicted of crack cocaine offenses, responding to a government decision to reduce retroactively the harsh penalties for using and selling that particular form of the drug. Up to 30 could be affected, says the Boston Globe. This month, judges have reduced by 15 to 33 months the sentences of at least three Massachusetts inmates imprisoned for crack offenses. As a result, two who have already exceeded the shortened sentences will be freed March 3, the first day prisoners are eligible for lightened punishments for crack-related crimes. A third is expected to be released in June.
An analysis by the US Sentencing Commission, which voted unanimously Dec. 11 to lighten punishments retroactively for some crack offenses, said 91 prisoners convicted in federal courts in Massachusetts will be eligible through 2012 to seek reductions of sentences imposed for selling or possessing crack. Boston federal public defender Miriam Conrad believes the number could be much higher than 91.