Pubdate: Tue, 01 Nov 2011
Source: Albany Herald, The (GA)
Copyright: 2011 The Albany Herald Publishing Company, Inc.
Author: Pete Skiba; The Associated Press contributed to this report.


ALBANY -- A federal report issued Monday that could lead to the early 
release of crack-cocaine offenders has no effect on prisoners in 
Georgia state prisons, authorities said.

The report does not affect those convicted by my office, nor does it 
affect prisoners serving sentences under Georgia state law," Dougherty 
County District Attorney Greg Edwards said. "Georgia has never 
recognized a difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine."

That has not been the case in federal courts like the U.S. District 
Court for the Middle District of Georgia, which includes Albany and 
four other locations.

Passed in the 1980s, a federal law gave inmates convicted of crack 
possession the same mandatory prison sentence as a person convicted of 
100 times the amount of powdered cocaine.

The sentence disparity between crack convictions and powder 
convictions has long been categorized as a form of racial 
discrimination. It has been shown statistically that the majority of 
convicted crack users are black, while whites received the majority of 
powdered cocaine convictions.

It is thought that more black people use crack because it is cheaper," 
Edwards said. "While whites, being more economically advantaged, use 
powder that is not mixed with as many other substances to cut it."

The U.S. Sentencing Commission issued the 645-page report Monday. The 
commission's website states that 157 people were sentenced 
under the old guidelines in the Middle District. They could be 
eligible for release.

"They would have to serve their minimum sentences," said Jeanne 
Doherty, the commission's spokeswoman. "It is not an automatic release."

The Associated Press reported that a spokesman for the Federal Bureau 
of prisons, Chris Burke, said Monday that officials have already 
received hundreds of orders for early release. No word on whether any 
orders were issued from the Middle District was immediately available 
from officials.

Prison officials have a grace period before they comply with release 
orders from judges. Nationally, the commission stated that 1,900 
prisoners could qualify for early release. Overall, the new guidelines 
could benefit 12,000 inmates nationally, the report stated.

Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which was signed by 
President Obama to reduce the disparity in future prison sentencing. 
This summer the federal policy-setting Sentencing Commission decided 
to apply the act to inmates already serving time. The effect of the 
change will probably spread over the next several years.


The U.S. Sentencing Commission reviewed 73,239 cases from fiscal year 
2010 as well as its data sets from previous fiscal years to complete 
data analyses in a report. Some of the report's key findings:

   - More than 27 percent of offenders included in the pool were 
convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.

   - More than 75 percent of those offenders convicted of an offense 
carrying a mandatory minimum penalty were convicted of a drug 
trafficking offense.

   - Hispanic offenders accounted for the largest group, 38.3 percent, 
of offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum 
penalty, followed by black offenders, 31.5 percent, white offenders, 
27.4 percent and other race offenders, 2.7 percent.

   - Almost half (46.7%) of all offenders convicted of an offense 
carrying a mandatory minimum penalty were relieved from the 
application of such penalty at sentencing for assisting the 
government, qualifying for "safety valve" relief, or both.

   - Black offenders received relief from a mandatory minimum penalty 
least often in 34.9 percent of their cases, compared to white, 46.6 
percent, Hispanic, 55.7 percent, and other race, 58.9 percent, 
offenders. In particular, black offenders qualified for relief at the 
lowest rate of any other racial group, 11.1 percent, compared to 
white, 26.7 percent, Hispanic, 42.8 percent, and other race, 36.6 
percent, either because of their criminal history or the involvement 
of a dangerous weapon in connection with the offense.

   - Receiving relief from a mandatory minimum penalty made a 
significant difference in the sentence ultimately imposed. Offenders 
subject to a mandatory minimum penalty at sentencing received an 
average sentence of 139 months, compared to an average sentence of 63 
months for those offenders who received relief from a mandatory 
minimum penalty.

   - While the number of offenders subject to a mandatory minimum 
penalty at sentencing has increased, the proportion of those offenders 
to others in federal custody has remained stable over the last 20 years.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.