Thousands of Prisoners Could Get Lighter Sentences

The strained prison system could get some relief. The U.S. Sentencing Committee voted Tuesday to allow prisoners on crack cocaine charges to challenge their sentence.

"If I'm a prisoner in a federal prison sentenced under the old guidelines, I'm going to file a writ saying I'm going to want my case reconsidered because it's not fair that you're changing the rules for these guys," said Randall Co. District Attorney James Farren.

The old guidelines developed while crack cocaine was an up-and-coming drug in the 1980s, came down hard on users. Crack users typically got harsher sentences than those convicted on powdered cocaine charges on a federal level. There shouldn't be too many changes, however, in the Panhandle.

"At the state level it would have very little impact because we already have a broader range of punishment for all kinds of crime, including cocaine in any form," said Farren. The hope by some people is that the ruling will clear out overcrowded federal prisons, of those convicted on drug-related charges.

"If you take a realistic look at federal sentences they're huge. They're long, long sentences and you can see it has a huge effect on the federal prison system," said Selden Hale, a defense attorney in Amarillo.

Farren says local jails should not be affected by the changes, because most of the inmates housed there are from state cases.