The Post is reporting that penalties for selling crack cocaine could be reduced, and the sentences imposed retroactively, allowing thousands to be be freed. The penalties for crack-related crimes are far harsher than those for crimes involving powder cocaine.

Should the panel adopt the new policy, the sentences of 19,500 inmates would be reduced by an average of 27 months. About 3,800 inmates now imprisoned for possession and distribution of crack cocaine could be freed within the next year, according to the commission’s analysis. The proposal would cover only inmates in federal prisons and not those in state correctional facilities, where the vast majority of people convicted of drug offenses are held.

By far the largest number — more than 1,400 — of those who would be eligible for sentence reductions were convicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which has jurisdiction over Northern Virginia and the Richmond area, according to an analysis done by the commission. Nearly 280 inmates convicted in federal courts in Maryland would be eligible, as well as almost 270 prisoners found guilty in the District of Columbia.

The commission is taking up one of the most racially sensitive issues of the two-decades-old war on drugs. Jurists and civil rights organizations have long complained that the commission’s guidelines mandate more stringent federal penalties for crack cocaine offenses, which usually involve African Americans, than for crimes involving powder cocaine, which generally involve white people. The chemical properties of the drugs are the same, though crack is potentially more addictive.

Nearly 86 percent of inmates who would be affected by the change are black; slightly fewer than 6 percent are white. Ninety-four percent are men.

The commission’s proposal does not change sentencing recommendations for powder cocaine.

A few things come to mind: Given the incredible amount of people in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, this is really a trickle. Also, releasing people from prison really isn’t enough; to reduce recidivism inmates have to have the kind of vocational or educational skills necessary to find gainful employment and avoid the traps of their former lives.

Naturally, the Bush Administration is opposed, because cocaine makes people dangerous, irrational, paranoid, and possibly prone to messianic delusions. Of course, Mr. Bush is only speaking from his own personal experience.

Well, that’s not exactly what they said.

The Bush administration opposes the new plan, arguing that it would overburden federal courts and release potentially dangerous drug offenders. In a letter to the commission, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher wrote that the release of a large number of drug offenders “would jeopardize community safety and threatens to unravel the success we have achieved in removing violent crack offenders from high-crime neighborhoods.”

But many federal judges, public defenders, parole officers and civil rights advocates favor the move, asserting that the penalties for crack cocaine charges have fallen disproportionately onto black people.

Were the Bush Administration concerned with creating sound policy rather than moralizing, they would propose a plan to help inmates re-enter society safely and with the proper career tools to help them avoid a life of crime. Even from a conservative point of view; recidivism is a disaster for taxpayers.

But black people don’t vote Republican. So isn’t it better to have as many of us disenfranchised and unable to vote as possible?

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