Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department is formally supporting a US Sentencing Commission proposal to allow some nonviolent drug offenders currently doing time in federal prisons to seek sentence reductions. The proposal would extend sentencing reforms already approved by the commission by making them retroactive.
Earlier this year, the Sentencing Commission approved sentencing reforms that adjust sentencing guidelines by lowering the base offense levels associated with various quantities of drugs. The change is expected to cut many federal drug sentences by an average of nearly two years. The commission will be voting on whether to make the cuts retroactive next month.
The Justice Department is supporting retroactivity, but only for prisoners "who lack significant criminal histories and whose offenses did not include aggravating factors, such as the possession of a dangerous weapon or the use of violence."
"Under the department’s proposal, if your offense was nonviolent, did not involve a weapon, and you do not have a significant criminal history, then you would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence in accordance with the new rules approved by the Commission in April," Holder said in a statement. "Not everyone in prison for a drug-related offense would be eligible. Nor would everyone who is eligible be guaranteed a reduced sentence. But this proposal strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences."
Holder's stance was reiterated by Sally Yates, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, and Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels during a formal hearing of the Commission.
"We believe that the federal drug sentencing structure in place before the amendment resulted in unnecessarily long sentences for some offenders that has resulted in significant prison overcrowding, and that imprisonment terms for those sentenced pursuant to the old guideline should be moderated to the extent possible consistent with other policy considerations," Yates said.
As of late April, there were 100,888 people serving federal time for drug offenses, according the federal Bureau of Prisons. They account for 49.9% of all federal prisoners.
– Article originally from Stop the Drug War, used with permission.