NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – More than 200 federal prison inmates in North Texas may soon be released.

A change in sentencing guidelines makes them eligible for early release.

The Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of Texas, Richard Anderson, explained that the move comes because of a difference in sentences for crack versus powder cocaine.

“These particular drug offenders were sentenced more harshly than individuals in similar situations because the drug involved was a derivative, or a base of cocaine, rather than powered cocaine,” he said.

The Fair Sentencing Act, passed by Congress last year, erases the sentencing disparity between those convicted of offenses involving crack versus powdered cocaine.

Anderson has sent letters to all 219 local inmates eligible for early release, but release is not automatic. A federal judge must decide each case.

“These folks would probably already be eligible for release had their sentence involved powered cocaine, rather than crack cocaine,” said Anderson.

The disparity in sentences for crack versus powder cocaine had long been criticized as racially discriminatory because it disproportionately affected black defendants.

Under the law, five grams of crack, about the weight of five packets of artificial sweetener, brought a mandatory five years behind bars; it took 500 grams of powdered cocaine to get the same sentence.

It’s estimated that some 12,000 inmates could be positively affected by the change in law.