State felons could see early release

Published: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 4:57 p.m.

Hundreds of felons imprisoned in Florida for crack cocaine convictions could be released early after recent changes in federal sentencing guidelines.

Nearly 1,500 federal inmates in the state can petition for a sentence reduction beginning March 3.

Florida civil liberties advocates hailed the changes as a step toward ending the disparity between sentences for crack offenses and powder cocaine convictions.

Florida is fourth in the nation in the number of inmates eligible for sentence reductions with 1,456, according to federal figures.

The issue has a strong racial dimension because more than four-fifths of crack cocaine offenders in federal courts in 2006 were black, while most powder cocaine users are white.

In fact, 86 percent of those eligible nationwide for reductions under the new guidelines are black, according to the sentencing commission.

Law enforcement across the country have expressed concerns that the move could put dangerous felons back on the streets.

‘‘I’m not saying they can’t get hooked on powder, but crack seems to have more potency and you have more problems over it,’’ Palm Beach County sheriff’s spokesman Paul Miller said. ‘‘There’s a direct connection between the distribution of crack cocaine and its effects on violent crime in the community.’’

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