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Report: Sentencing Reduction Had No Impact on Recidivism Among Crack Offenders

Dallas County district attorney Craig Watkins takes part in a U.S. Sentencing Commission public hearing in Austin, Texas, Nov. 19, 2009.

A new study shows that letting convicted crack cocaine dealers out of prison early had little impact on the likelihood they would commit new crimes.

Wednesday's report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission found "no difference in the recidivism rates for offenders who were released early ... and offenders who had served their full sentences." Recidivism is the likelihood that a person would commit new crimes after prison.

Over a three-year period, both groups showed similar recidivism patterns. About 40 percent of both groups committed new offenses. It took both groups roughly 14½ months to turn to crime. And among both groups, "court or supervision violation" was often the most serious offense reported.

The study compared 5,525 offenders who had received retroactive reductions in their prison terms under the Fair Sentencing Act with 2,298 who had served their full sentences.

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 raised the amount of crack cocaine needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentencing for manufacturing and trafficking and eliminated mandatory sentencing for simple possession of the highly addictive drug.

The Sentencing Commission later voted to retroactively apply the new sentencing guidelines to offenders who had been imprisoned before the law was passed, allowing 7,748 crack cocaine offenders to receive an average sentence reduction of 30 months.

The law was widely hailed for reducing racial disparities between offenses for crack and powder cocaine. The majority of crack cocaine users tend to be African-Americans.