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The U.S. Sentencing Commission usually operates in obscurity, but it will be in the spotlight Dec. 11 when it may take a final vote on whether to apply new sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine drug offenses retroactively. Nowhere will it be more closely watched than in federal prisons, where 19,500 inmates could have their sentences reduced by two years or more. The new rules lessen, though don’t eliminate, the sentencing disparity between crack offenders � 80 percent of whom are African-American � and powder cocaine offenders. “The prison network is up and running” in anticipation of the vote, says Ohio State University sentencing law guru Douglas Berman. But he cautions that each inmate has to petition a judge for the reduction, and the Justice Department may oppose many on public safety grounds.
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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