Attorney General Eric Holder is urging the U.S. Sentencing Commission to let some people serving excessive sentences for nonviolent drug crimes get out of prison early.
The Commission overwhelmingly approved an amendment in April to reduce the federal drug sentences for people convicted of drug trafficking crimes after November 1, 2014. But Holder said Tuesday that the Justice Department wants this deal to apply retroactively to drug convicts who weren’t violent or convicted of weapon possession.
By making the amendment retroactive, prisoners whose sentences were “needlessly inflated” will get the same treatment as those sentenced after Nov. 1, said Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
“It would be a cruel irony to fix the problem of over-sentencing only to deny relief to the thousands who have suffered its consequences,” Price said. “It will also make a real impact on the federal prison population, which hovers at nearly 40% above capacity and which siphons funds needed for crime prevention, detection, and prosecution.”
Holder’s announcement is part of his effort to reform draconian drug laws enacted in response to the crack epidemic of the 1980s. These laws include mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, which have forced federal judges to mete out harsh sentences for drug crimes regardless of mitigating factors like poverty or drug addiction.
The lengths of federal drug sentences are organised according to various levels, determined by the quantity of drugs found on the convicted individual, according to FAMM. The amendment will reduce federal drug sentences by two levels for eligible people who submit a petition, thus shortening the length of their sentences.
Of more than 215,000 inmates in the federal prison system, 20,000 would be eligible for reduced sentences according to the proposal Holder is supporting, USA Today reports.
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