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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Coming Home After a Reduced Sentence

Those Released Since Disparities in Cocaine Penalties Were Offset Find a Different World

Ph2008060701907 Days after her release from prison, Nerika Jenkins made a bold prediction: "I'll bounce right back into society." Although the world changed considerably over the 11 years of her imprisonment, she said, "I'm not afraid." She took vocational classes -- masonry, carpentry, painting, culinary arts, Microsoft Excel and horticulture -- while serving time in Philadelphia and Danbury, Conn. "I'm just ready to achieve my short-term goal, building a nursing home," she said. "They're always in need of places for the elderly."

More than 7,000 crack cocaine offenders such as Jenkins, 36, have received reduced sentences since March, when the U.S. Sentencing Commission put retroactive sentence guidelines into effect to offset what the commission felt were overly harsh punishments for crack cocaine related crimes, and it is an open question whether they will succeed or return to a life behind bars.

The majority of the reductions so far have been granted in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, covering Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas, according to a report by the Sentencing Commission on retroactive crack cocaine sentencing released in May. By contrast, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, covering California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Alaska, Nevada, as well as other states and territories, has granted about the same number of reductions as the smallest jurisdiction, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington. [Mark Godsey]

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