The Fair Sentencing Act—-which was passed by Congress last year, later retroactively applied by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and went into effect last week—-could reduce the sentences of 139 federal inmates from D.C. who are currently serving time on crack cocaine charges.

As of last Tuesday, those inmates became eligible to appeal for early release, says Jeanne Doherty of the United States Sentencing Commission.

51 requests for recommendations to have sentences reduced have already come in, according to Bill Miller of the United States Attorney’s Office. 20 requests have been allowed to go forward without opposition, 18 have been completely opposed, and 13 are partially opposed, which means the U.S. attorney believes those inmates are “entitled to some reduction, but not all that they are seeking,” Miller says.

Still, Miller says, even those whose requests are totally opposed by the U.S. attorney—-on the grounds that the inmate could be a danger to society—-will have the opportunity to appeal.

The Fair Sentencing Act reduces the disparity in punishment between crack charges and cocaine charges. Previously, getting caught with crack was 100 times as bad as getting caught with cocaine; now it’s only 18 times as bad! And mandatory minimums will also be reduced—-the law ups the amount of crack a person must have on them before the five-year minimum goes into effect.

Advocates of the Fair Sentencing Act considered the disparity to be racially motivated, since 80 percent of crack arrests involved blacks, while whites were more likely to be caught with cocaine.

Earlier this year, the USSC voted to make the law retroactive, which gives more than 12,000 prisoners nationwide the opportunity to appeal for a reduced sentence over the next thirty years.

Photo by the DEA via Wikimedia/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License