Tuesday, November 01, 2011

New Federal Sentencing Guidelines Take Effect November 1

Today, November 1, the new federal sentencing guidelines take effect.  One of the most significant changes involves bringing the penalty for possession of crack cocaine in line with the penalties for possession of cocaine in other forms.   In general terms this means lowering the mandatory sentence for possession of crack cocaine.   Although this portion of the new guidelines will take effect retroactively it is not an automatic "get out of jail" card.   Each case must be considered individually by a federal court.  National Public Radio did an interesting story on the changes to crack sentencing that could lead to early releases.  The story notes that the "disparity in sentences for crack versus powder had long been criticized as racially discriminatory because it disproportionately affected black defendants. The Fair Sentencing Act passed by Congress in 2010 and signed by President Barack Obama reduced the disparity for future cases."

For official information, go to the United States Sentencing Commission's website which has an  FAQ with information about the changes for crack cocaine. For more indepth information, consult the commission's report to Congress about the effects of mandatory sentences on the federal prison system.   The commission is charged with making "recommendations to Congress concerning modification or enactment of statutes relating to sentencing, penal, and correctional matters that the Commission finds to be necessary and advisable to carry out an effective, humane, and rational sentencing policy."  Aligning the sentences for crack cocaine with those for other forms of cocaine seems like a good step towards a more rational sentencing policy. 

For additional information on federal drug policy, the The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) website is a good place to start.  In addition to information about drug enforcement, the site includes pictures of drugs, fact sheets on legal and illegal drugs, and other useful information.

Pictures of cocaine from the DEA website.

You can also find more information about drugs and crime using the links on the Government Information's Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Use page and on the Crime and Justice page.

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