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A Break for Thousands of Crack Cocaine Felons

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A Break for Thousands of Crack Cocaine Felons


A Break for Thousands of Crack Cocaine Felons

A Break for Thousands of Crack Cocaine Felons

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted yesterday to retroactively reduce crack cocaine sentences. Almost 20,000 federal prisoners could get their time reduced, and about 3,800 of them could be out of prison as early as next year.

BILL WOLFF (Announcer): From NPR News in New York, this is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.


This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News, your home for news information. And today, deep, deep analysis of Celine Dion.

I'm Alison Stewart.


And I'm Luke Burbank. It's Wednesday, December 12, 2007.

And, yeah, we ain't kidding, there's going to be a lot of Dion this hour.

STEWART: We both have copies of this book in our hand, a hundred and sixty-one pages worth of…

BURBANK: Of actually really well-written…

STEWART: It is well-written?

BURBANK: …kind of musical criticism and we don't mean to be critical but just taking kind of a look at Celine Dion's record, "Let's Talk About Love," and the book's called, "Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste."

But if you are a Celine Dion hater or if you're Celine Dion lover, listen to this interview we're going do later this hour because I think it's going to raise some really interesting points.

STEWART: We're also going to do another edition of Make Me Care, a BRYANT PARK PROJECT special. You probably read about the fed rate - probably didn't care. We're going to do our best to engage you on the topic.

BURBANK: And Facebook actually doesn't let you post ads on your own Facebook site, but that has not stopped some people from doing it. There's a company in Canada that says you can actually make some money by running ads, because, look, if you got a million friends and everyone's looking at it, that's your little piece of real estate - or is it?. We'll talk about that.

STEWART: And we'll also go to NPR's Korva Coleman for today's headlines in just a minute.

But first, here is the BPP's big story.

BURBANK: Almost 20,000 federal prisoners convicted on crack cocaine charges could be getting reduced sentences, and about 3,800 of them could be out of prison next year.

STEWART: That's because the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously, yesterday, to retroactively reduce the penalties for using and selling crack, cutting the average prison sentence by about 27 months.

BURBANK: The vote came a day after the Supreme Court ruled that judges can deviate from these strict sentencing guidelines developed during what we all know as the war on drugs back in the '80s. The court upheld more lenient sentences in two cases where judges found the federal guidelines were too severe.

STEWART: Okay, here's how these guidelines worked: Anyone convicted of dealing five grams of crack, even a first time offender, automatically got five years in prison. Now, you'd have to have at least 500 grams of powdered coke to get the same amount of time. Congress said it set the tough standards because crack offenders are more dangerous than powder cocaine users.

BURBANK: But that argument and these laws have long been called racist by some people. Some say they target African-Americans and the urban poor, people who, more commonly, are busted for using crack - it's a much cheaper version of cocaine.

STEWART: But there's controversy here - the commission's vote defies warnings from the Justice Department which released a statement yesterday saying that crack offenders are, quote, "the most serious and violent offenders in the federal system," unquote. The Bush administration opposes, making the lighter sentences retroactive.

Yesterday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said the Justice Department opposes the move and then explained why.

Attorney General MICHAEL MUKASEY (U.S. Department of Justice): If those guidelines are made retroactive, you've then dealt with the question of how you deal successfully with the people who wouldn't, in the ordinary course, be released - how they can be worked into the probationary and supervisory mechanism that has to be emplaced before they can be let go. So for both of those reasons, we think it's a - it creates problems.

BURBANK: The Sentencing Commission's vote makes inmates eligible to petition a judge to be re-sentenced under the new guidelines starting March 3rd of next year - think about it as a judicial do-over of sorts. The commission says the delay will give prison administrators and other correctional administrators time to prepare for a surge of applications.

STEWART: That's the BPP's big story.

Now, here's Korva Coleman with even more news.

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