""We should constantly strive to make sure that race plays no role in the day-to-day operation of the criminal justice system," says Ruben Castillo of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Approximately 19,500 prisoners currently serving time for crack cocaine offenses are eligible to have their sentences reduced, according to new guidelines established by the Commission. The ruling comes a day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal judges must have broad discretion in drug and other criminal cases, and cannot be required to met out tougher penalties for those who sell crack rather than powder cocaine.
In one case, the justices backed a Virginia district judge who denounced as "ridiculous" guidelines that would impose the same sentences on a crack dealer as on a dealer of powder cocaine who sells 100 times as much of his drug. The guidelines have been criticized as racially discriminatory because most crack offenders are black, while powder cocaine is more widely used by whites. (Washington Post)
The Sentencing Project, which promotes reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration, praised the decisions. "It is a remarkable day," Marc Mauer, the project's executive director, told The Washington Post. "While this is only the federal system and it's a small change, it's going to resonate around the world." And Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which works for fair and proportionate sentencing laws, points out that the next step is for Congress to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
"The rulings provide fresh impetus for Congress to rewrite the grotesquely unfair crack cocaine laws on which the federal sentencing guidelines are partly based," editorialized The New York Times. "Those laws are a relic of the 1980s, when it was widely but wrongly believed that the crack form of cocaine was more dangerous than the powder form.
It will be interesting to see how many newspapers pick up on the LOCAL ANGLE of this story. I'm particularly interested in North Carolina.