Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentences of eight people convicted of crack cocaine offenses, saying they were punished under an unfair legal disparity that overwhelmingly hurt impoverished black communities.
All of the inmates had been imprisoned for at least 15 years, including six who were sentenced to life behind bars. Most will be released by April 17.
The prisoners likely would have received lighter jail terms if they had been sentenced under a law Obama signed three years ago that reduced sentencing disparities that once treated crack cocaine offenses more harshly than powder cocaine ones.
Obama said the six men and two women were jailed under an “unfair system” in which someone arrested with one gram of crack cocaine received the same sentencing as someone arrested with 100 grams of powdered cocaine, a ratio that was mitigated by the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act.
“If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” Obama said in a statement.
“Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”