Federal Drug Offenders Eligible for Early Release?

Tens of thousands of inmates currently serving time in federal prison for drug offenses could soon have their sentences reduced. Last week, the United States Sentencing Commission passed a unanimous vote that would allow nearly 46,000 drug offenders to retroactively qualify for early release in conjunction with an amendment passed by the agency earlier this year to slash guidelines for federal minimum sentencing.

This decision will allow most inmates serving federal time for drug-related offenses to go before a judge, who will then determine if their sentence should be diminished in accordance with the maximum sentencing reduction. For some, this could mean having an average of two years chopped off the length of their prison term.

In April, the commission made a monumental move towards the reform of drug sentencing in America by amending policies that enforce mandatory minimums. Previously, sentencing reductions only applied to those inmates busted for crimes involving crack cocaine, but further research proved to the commission that these policies should applicable for all drugs. The latest vote allows sentencing reduction for inmates currently serving out lengthy federal prison terms, as well as drug offenders waiting for the hammer to come down.

“This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach,” said Judge Patti Saris, chair of the Commission, in a statement. “It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety.”

Although the commission’s vote is a great leap of change in regards to federal drug laws, there is still a possibility their efforts will be snuffed out. Congress has until the beginning of November to disapprove the commission’s decision. If there is no dispute in the progressive nature of the amendment, inmates will have the right to begin petitioning judges to have their sentence reduced.

Yet, under a special stipulation built in by the commission, no prisoner would be eligible for release until November 1, 2015.

The Obama Administration praised the commission’s decision, and said the Bureau of Prisons would immediately begin to notify inmates of their eligibility. “This is a milestone in the effort to make more efficient use of our law enforcement resources and to ease the burden on our overcrowded prison system,” said US Attorney Eric Holder in a recent statement. “The department looks forward to implementing this plan to reduce sentences for certain incarcerated individuals.”

The commission’s latest verdict demonstrates the largest reduction in federal sentencing guidelines in American history.


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