The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to apply retroactively a proposed amendment to federal crack cocaine sentencing guidelines to lower sentences as much as three years. The effect would be to entitle as many as 12,000 federal prisoners to seek reduced sentences if they meet certain criteria.
Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, recognizing the fundamental unfairness in cocaine sentencing policy in bipartisan legislation. The Sentencing Commission’s action would remedy some of the worst of the sentencing disparities.
The average sentence reduction for eligible offenders will be three years, according to a statement by the U.S. Courts Administrative Office.
For years federal sentencing policy provided much harsher sentences for sale and possession of crack cocaine that for a similar amount of powder cocaine, in response to the epidemic use of crack in the 1990s.
Congress concluded that the disparity was unfair. The Bureau of Prisons estimates the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 amendment could save $200 million within five years.
Despite the change, many crack offenders will still serve mandatory five and 10-year sentences.