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Fair Sentencing Act Expected to Cut Prison Stints of More Than 300 Missourians

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UPDATE WITH INFO FROM EASTERN MISSOURI PROBATION OFFICE

The Fair Sentencing Act passed by Congress in 2010 kicked in earlier this week, affecting thousands of inmates who the federal government believes were unjustly sentenced following crack-related offenses.

During the 1980s and '90s, a person convicted of a crack-cocaine crime got the same mandatory prison term as someone with 100 times the amount of powdered cocaine -- a disparity that critics believe was racially motivated. Under the Fair Sentencing Act, an estimated 12,000 prisoners who were incarcerated on crack-related charges received an average three-year reduction in sentence, which was applied retroactively.

Because of the retroactivity, the first wave of inmates who were caught up in the old sentencing laws walked free on Tuesday, November 1. It's uncertain how many Missourians are now free because of the Congressional act, but in a report this summer the U.S. Sentencing Commission projected that 196 prisoners from the Eastern Missouri District and 124 prisoners from the Western Missouri District had their sentences cut. That total figure represents 2.6 percent of the 12,040 offenders in the report.

Douglas Burris, chief U.S. probation officer for the Eastern District of Missouri, whose office combed through 20,000 case files to determine who is eligible for sentence reduction, tells Daily RFT that he expects 34 people to be released from prison by the end of tomorrow. He says it's a safe assumption that they all are African-American.

According to the Sentencing Commission's report, about 30 percent of the 12,040 offenders nationwide will be eligible for release during the next 365 days. In addition,10,232, or 85 percent, of people being impacted are African-American. Ninety-five percent are male, and the average age is 36.

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