New rules in the drug war

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to retroactively reduce penalties for using and selling crack cocaine, making thousands of prisoners eligible for early release. It will take more than that to "restore some fairness," said the Baltimore Sun.

What happened

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted Tuesday to retroactively reduce penalties for using and selling crack cocaine, making 2,500 federal prisoners eligible for early release in March and potentially affecting 19,500 people serving time for crack offenses. (Los Angeles Times, free registration)

What the commentators said

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The Sentencing Commission’s decision “should help restore some fairness,” said the Baltimore Sun in an editorial, “but it comes after too many people have already served too much time.” Minority crack offenders have long paid stiffer penalties for their crimes than “white couterparts” dealing powder cocaine, and “Congress needs to enact more comprehensive relief.”

The Supreme Court has paved the way for lawmakers, said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration). Two 7-2 rulings this week “restored a vital measure of discretion,” letting judges impose sentences as they see fit instead of adhering to strict guidelines. “The rulings provide fresh impetus for Congress to rewrite the grotesquely unfair crack cocaine laws” that influenced sentencing guidelines.

The court and the Sentencing Commission have taken only one baby step, said the Orange County Register in an editorial. The unjust sentencing disparity dates to the 1980s, when everyone believed that crack was more dangerous than powder cocaine. Now that fear of the crack “epidemic” has subsided, Congress should “eliminate” the disparity, or even “end the ridiculous war on drugs that has created so much more misery and despair than the drugs themselves ever did.”

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