Crack Criminals Eligible For Early Release

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has passed a new law that could reduce the length of sentences for the approximately 12,000 people in federal prisons for crack-related crimes. That's 1 in 17 inmates, 85 percent of whom are African-American, doing hard time for crack possession and trafficking.

Sentences for new cases had already been reduced last year, but this new legislation would apply to people already behind bars. The harsh, outdated, and system-clogging laws they replace date back to the swinging, 1980s heyday of crack.

The old law was enacted in 1986, when crack was a new and terrifying phenomenon blamed for a wave of inner-city violence.

Under that law, a person convicted of crack possession got the same mandatory prison term as someone with 100 times the amount of powdered cocaine. Five grams of crack, about the weight of five packets of Sweet N'Low, brought a mandatory five years behind bars; it took 500 grams of powdered cocaine to get the same sentence.

That's whack. The new laws allow you to carry way more crack. Just don't carry a full ounce — that gets you five years. As for the sentence reductions, they're considered on a petition-by-petition basis, and will likely reduce jail time by an average of three years. [AP, photo via Shutterstock]