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Nearly 200 Minnesota crack convicts might see sentence reductions

ST. PAUL (AP) -- This week's news that thousands of federal inmates may seek reductions in their sentences for crack crimes hasn't gone unnoticed in Minnesota's prisons.

"The clients have not stopped calling," said Katherian Roe, chief of the Office of the Federal Defender in Minneapolis.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission ruled this week that eligible prisoners can begin applying for reductions in March. That decision followed earlier moves to have federal sentencing guidelines treat offenses for crack and powder cocaine more equally.

The commission estimated that 192 inmates in Minnesota would be eligible to apply. Applicants will get a court hearing, with a judge to decide if a reduction should be granted.

Roe's staff prepared for the commission's ruling by reviewing federal cocaine sentencings in Minnesota involving the defender's office back to 1987. They're now working to notify about 100 inmates about the ruling and their potential eligibility for a reduction.

"Everyone is excited to do this because they believe that these people are entitled to the benefit," Roe said.

Officials said there's no telling how many prisoners will see their time reduced.

"I strongly believe that at the beginning, it will be a difficult process, as anything might be. They're talking about multiple thousands of people (nationwide)," said U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum, chief judge of the District of Minnesota.

"It's going to take some time for everyone to figure out exactly who qualifies," said U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, of Minneapolis.

Rosenbaum said the priority would be on prisoners entering the last few years of their sentence.

"The crack penalties are really very, very stringent," he said. "There's a lot of people who even with ... 25-percent reduction they're not going to be coming out in the morning. But there are some people whose sentences are real close to ripened and this change will allow them to get out almost immediately."