Panel ponders mass cut in prison sentences

The U.S. Sentencing Commission is considering a ruling that would retroactively cut the sentences of nearly 20,000 inmates in federal prisons, a move that could allow more than 2,000 prisoners to be released within a year.

The commission already reduced the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine possession offenders by about 10 percent amid pressure from civil rights and inmate advocacy groups who say the tougher standards for crack cocaine, as compared to the powder form of the drug, has a disproportionately harsh effect on people of color. Those guideline changes went into effect Nov. 1, and are prospective in nature.

Now the commission, faced with the same pressure, is considering a retroactive change that could spur the largest mass commutation in the panel’s 20-year history, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Currently the U.S. Supreme Court is already considering much discretion trial courts have to order penalties outside of the federal guidelines in two pending cases: Gall v. U.S. and Kimbrough v. U.S.


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