Over 200 local cases to be affected by reduction in crack cocaine sentences

Dick Hawkins, a sociology professor in SMU's Dedman School of Humanities and Sciences, talks about how the Fair Sentencing Act might affect inmates sentenced for drug cases.

Staff Writer

More than 200 federal inmates in North Texas are among about 12,000 nationally who qualify to have their prison sentences shortened — or be released immediately — because of a long-sought change in sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses.

 The Fair Sentencing Act, which was approved by Congress last year and took effect Tuesday, reduces the disparity between sentences for crack and the powdered form of cocaine.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended that the law be applied retroactively so that about 12,000 prisoners nationwide would benefit from sentence reductions....

The original law, enacted during the cocaine boom of the 1980s, has long been decried as racially discriminatory, said SMU sociology professor Dick Hawkins.

Hawkins, who studies the administration of justice, said the law was not intended to target black and other minority residents, but it has had that effect. Crack cocaine, significantly less expensive on the street than powdered cocaine, is peddled in poorer neighborhoods.

“I think it is stupidity having great diversity in penalties when you have such similar drugs,” Hawkins said. “It threatens the legitimacy of the law. A 1-to-1 ratio would be more appropriate than a 1-to-13 ratio.”