WASHINGTON - Thousands of federal prisoners could be released beginning later this year to correct wide disparities in sentences between crack and cocaine offenders under a proposal that won the key support of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

Although more than 12,000 federal prisoners - nearly 6 percent of the inmates in the vastly overcrowded U.S. prison system - could be affected, Holder recommended that only 5,500 should be released because the others' crimes involved weapons or they have long criminal histories.

The proposal is intended to remedy a historic legacy of the war on drugs that meted out heavier sentences for crack-cocaine users, who are mostly black, than for powdered-cocaine users, often white and sometimes affluent.

-Chicago Tribune