Change in crack sentencing means early releases

November 1, 2011 - 2:20 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of federal prisoners nationwide are now eligible for early release after changes in the way sentences for crack cocaine are calculated.

The overall effect will be spread out over years, but almost 2,000 federal prisoners will be eligible for release on Tuesday. It could take longer for paperwork to go through and allow the inmates to walk free.

Congress and President Barack Obama signed a law last year ending the practice of harsher sentences for crack cocaine compared to powder cocaine. Critics argued the laws disproportionately affected black defendants.

Now the U.S. Sentencing Commission is applying that law to past cocaine convictions. Officials estimate about 12,000 inmates could eventually benefit.