Thousands of drug-crime inmates could be freed early under new laws that will retroactively cut sentencing disparities between those convicted of possessing or distributing crack cocaine and those found instead with the drug in powdered form.
About 1,900 prisoners are eligible to walk free immediately. The reforms address sentencing guidelines set in 1980s when crack cocaine use and related gang violence were rife in the US. The sentences for those convicted on crack charges were the same as those with 100 times more in powdered cocaine.
Pressure to correct that bias had been mounting for years, partly because it was seen as racially discriminatory as crack cocaine use was particularly commonplace in black communities.
Even with the changes, there is still an 18-to-1 disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offences, prompting some critics to say the changes are too timid.