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Federal crack inmates could be released from prison early

This is a discussion on Federal crack inmates could be released from prison early within the Today's News forums, part of the Public Discussions category; Crack inmates could be released from prison early | Alabama Press-Register Posted by BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Reporter November 17, ...

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    Federal crack inmates could be released from prison early

    Crack inmates could be released from prison early | Alabama Press-Register

    Posted by BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Reporter November 17, 2007 10:26 AM
    Categories: Breaking News

    Some 19,500 federal prisoners -- including nearly 300 who were sentenced in Mobile -- could get out of prison early if a sentencing panel approves a proposal under consideration in Washington.

    The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets guidelines for prison terms in federal cases, recently reduced the punishments prescribed for most crack cocaine offenders. Those guidelines took effect this month.

    The commission has not yet decided whether the new terms should apply to people sentenced before Nov. 1. The panel, made up of appointees of President Bush and President Clinton, held hearings this week on the question but has not indicated when it will vote.

    An analysis prepared by the Sentencing Commission estimates that 296 crack offenders sentenced in Mobile would be eligible for reduced sentences, the 21st highest number of the country's 94 federal districts. Of those, 37 could get out immediately, and another 39 would be eligible for release within a year.

    "It's significant. It's going to be two to three years on most guys. And you have to realize, this goes back 15 years, so you've got lot of people getting close (to their release dates)," said Robert Ratliff, a Mobile criminal defense lawyer. "There's a big number waiting at the door."

    The U.S. Department of Justice has opposed the changes, particularly warning about the impact on the court system if the new rules become retroactive.

    Greg Bordenkircher, the first assistant U.S. attorney and criminal division chief in Mobile, said his office's analysis suggests a smaller number of locally convicted prisoners would be eligible for a sentence reduction. He pegged the figure closer to 180 to 200.

    At any rate, Bordenkircher said, it is more than coincidental that declining crime rates over the past two decades have coincided with longer federal sentences for drug crimes.

    "There's a small part of the society that continually commits crime. If you put that segment of society in jail, you see a corresponding drop in crime," he said. "Crack has been a devastating scourge in the black community, just as meth has been a devastating scourge in the white community."

    Disparity between crack, powder cocaine

    The Sentencing Commission made the changes in an attempt to lessen the disparity between sentences for crack cocaine and the drug's powder form. The previous guidelines treated 5 grams of crack -- less than the weight of a packet of ketchup -- the same as 500 grams of powder cocaine.

    The 100-to-1 ratio has attracted a host of detractors since Congress first passed sentencing guidelines in the 1980s.

    "The whole crack-powder disparity is class- and race-based anyway. The disparity has never made any sense," said Mobile lawyer Dom Soto. "It's (the sentencing changes) probably going to go back and undo a lot of injustices, especially those from the early days."

    Added Soto's law partner, Arthur Madden: "It was just so obviously wrong."

    If the commission makes the guideline changes retroactive, prisoners likely would not automatically get reduced sentences but would have to ask a judge. Chief U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade said it is premature to say how that process would work, but lawyers in Mobile said some past sentencing changes have been handled by written motions without inmates even attending hearings.

    Supporters of the changes said it is unfair to punish people more harshly just because they were sentenced before Nov. 1, when the guideline changes took effect.

    "There's a total equity issue here and a moral imperative for the commission to act retroactively," said Julie Stewart, who testified before the Sentencing Commission as president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

    The Sentencing Commission has estimated that the average crack sentence will drop from 10 years and a month to eight years and 10 months, a 15-month reduction. The panel estimates that the reduction for offenders already serving crack sentences will be even greater -- 27 months.

    It is unclear why the break would be bigger for existing inmates, but some lawyers speculated that the numbers are skewed by defendants sentenced before reforms that built in a "safety valve" for minor offenders with no criminal records.

    "Many a defendant got 405 months, 360 months back in the early days," attorney Dennis Knizley said.

    Many opponents of long drug sentences openly express hope that the guideline changes will build momentum for more systemic reform.

    Stewart, who founded the Washington-based Families Against Mandatory Minimums after her brother got a five-year sentence for growing marijuana in his house, said the law should target defendants based on their conduct. Currently, she said, some people get extraordinarily long prison terms for relatively minor roles in conspiracies involving large amounts of crack.

    "Weight-based sentencing simply doesn't reflect culpability," she said.

    Soto said the changes to the crack guidelines combined with a recent Supreme Court decision that made the guidelines advisory have begun to return discretion to judges for the first time in two decades.

    "For a long time, all we were doing was holding people's hands as we all jumped off a cliff together," he said. "This might be getting back to where criminal law is interesting again."

    Other opponents of federal sentencing practices contend the Sentencing Commission reforms are far too timid.

    "The government has spent $200 billion on interdiction and enforcement, and cocaine is cheaper now that it was 30 years ago. You're never going to do away with crack cocaine or any drug as long as it's profitable," said Mobile lawyer Robert F. "Cowboy Bob" Clark. "We're going to ruin a bunch of lives."

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    Re: Federal crack inmates could be released from prison early

    Un-****ing-believable. These people destroyed our communities, and now they're going right back onto the streets to start all over again.

    Thanks, USSC. You've single-handedly undone 30 years of blood and sweat. All those LEO's will have died in vein protecting the streets.

    What a waste.

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    Re: Federal crack inmates could be released from prison early

    Got to have more room for illegal aliens! Can't just deport them, Oh no!
    :flex: "Oderint Dum Mutuant" Let them hate as long as they Fear

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    Re: Federal crack inmates could be released from prison early

    this is the same talk that started riots, that led to the nation wide lock down in oct. 1995.

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    Re: Federal crack inmates could be released from prison early

    Quote Originally Posted by USPBOB View Post
    this is the same talk that started riots, that led to the nation wide lock down in oct. 1995.
    I was just thinking the same exact thing....get ready for round 2!..

  6. #6
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    Re: Federal crack inmates could be released from prison early

    yep folks let us see, make the sentences longer to teach the dope sliggers a lesson, oh now the the prison system is growing to larger numbers lets change our minds and let all the poor poor victims of welfare back on the streets so they can sell somemore dope. I am with boss man on this. it is pure bull****. lock em up and throw away the stinking key. Who says a needle in the arm is cruel and unusual, but the death penatly is another subject.

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    Re: Federal crack inmates could be released from prison early

    In the paper here in California, it said a BIG percentage of the Federal Inmates looking at being released etc. were going to come from the complex at Victorvillle.
    I love my Country, it's the Government I'm scared of!

 

 

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