The 1980s-era federal laws punished crack-related crimes much more severely than those involving powdered cocaine — a practice criticized as racially discriminatory because most of those convicted of crack offenses were black.
More recently, the penalties for crack were reduced to bring them more in line with those for powder, and Tuesday was the first day inmates locked up under the old rules could get out early.
Some 12,000 prisoners are expected to benefit from reduced sentences over the next several years, with an estimated 1,900 eligible for immediate release as of Tuesday. On average, inmates will get three years shaved off their sentences. The reductions do not apply to people found guilty of crack offenses under state laws. ...
Inmates' requests for sentence reductions were decided on a case-by-case basis, with courts taking into consideration such factors as the prisoner's behavior behind bars and threat to society.