Obama commutes the sentences of eight crack cocaine offenders from prison as part of an effort to address the inequities that imprison blacks more than whites. Crack cocaine users got much stiffer sentences in the past than those who were caught with the powdered form of cocaine. A law in 2010 put a stop to this, but many people still remain serving those stiff sentences today.
According to the L.A. Times on Dec. 19, "Crack use was more common among blacks and powder among whites," so the stiff prison sentences were going more to the black offenders rather than the white offenders. That’s not to say that if a white person was caught using crack cocaine they’d get a lighter sentence, they too would get the harsher sentence under the old law than if they had used powered cocaine.
Up until 2010, those convicted of crack cocaine were subject to mandatory sentences which were far higher than if they had used the powdered cocaine. A law passed in 2010, the Fair Sentencing Law, put an end to the extreme sentencing for crack cocaine users.
Obama asked the Congress to make that law retroactive. Advocates for this say that 7,000 crack users in prison who would not be in jail today if they had been sentenced after the 2010 law.
Along with commuting the sentences for the seven crack cocaine users, he also granted 13 people pardons, who had already served their sentences.
A congressional vote to make the 2010 law apply to sentenced offenders “ain’t going to happen” said Margret Love, a pardon attorney under President Clinton. Something needs to be done for the vast majority of folks sitting in prison serving those long prison terms that they wouldn't be serving today if that law would have been in effect at the time of their offense. These are non-violent offenders, as were the prisoners who got their sentence commuted by the President.
At the beginning of the year the Justice Department was asked by Obama to look for "meritorious" commutation applications and that he approved all that were sent to him with recommendations, reports a White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly.