News

Changes could mean an early release for 50,000 drug offenders

Changes could mean an early release for 50,000 drug offenders

In this Aug. 12, 2013, file photo Attorney General Eric Holder speaks to the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Photo: Associated Press/Eric Risberg, File

By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More than 50,000 drug offenders may be released early from federal prison if a U.S. judiciary agency votes on Friday to change the nation’s sentencing guidelines.

A proposal before the U.S. Sentencing Commission would take an average of 23 months off prison terms being served by drug offenders, making retroactive an amendment to sentencing guidelines passed earlier this year.

The Justice Department, however, urged the commission at a public hearing last month to approve an amendment that would narrow eligibility to about 20,000 inmates.

The lower number would exclude offenders with a record of violence and those caught with large quantities of drugs.

The department proposed the lower number to win the support of federal prosecutors, the majority of whom do not want a shortening of drug sentences they previously obtained, a source familiar with the process said.

But Justice Department leaders, known proponents of sentencing reform, have been meeting with the commission since the testimony, privately weighing proposals that would include more inmates.

Advocates of sentencing reform say the federal government has been slow to adopt policies already in place in many states, but the tide appears to be shifting.

“It is as if all the branches of government woke up this year and figured out something that had to be done about the problems associated with overincarceration,” said Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Support for efforts to reduce sentences has grown in Congress and the Obama administration as U.S. crime rates have declined dramatically from levels three decades ago.

Opponents include law enforcement officers and some lawmakers, who warn that reducing sentences could cause crime rates to rise.

At the state level, including such conservative places as Texas, sentences for drug offenders have been cut to address overcrowding in prisons and make budget cuts possible.

Since the lowering of sentences in states has not led to higher crime rates, federal reform efforts have recently gained speed.

Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo in August 2013 telling federal prosecutors they should no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.

A bill in Congress that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders has strong bipartisan support, including from conservative Senator Mike Lee, who sponsored the bill.

Price said it would be “tremendous” if the Sentencing Commission votes to end sentences early for federal drug offenders.

The amendment would likely go into effect Nov. 1.

Recent Headlines

in Music

Concert-goes hospitalized during Keith Urban show

Keith Urban arrives at the 56th annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, in Los Angeles.

Things got a bit crazy at Keith Urban's Massachusetts show on Saturday night.

in Entertainment

Fans support campaign to keep Sean Bean alive in new show

British actor Sean Bean arrives for a special UK screening of Cleanskin, at the Mayfair Hotel in central London, Monday, March 5, 2012.

The "Game of Thrones" actor has died more than 20 times in his career, and fans want it to stop.

in Entertainment

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ sequel set for 2017

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Marvel unveils plans to press ahead with a sequel to "Guardians of the Galaxy," days before the superhero movie even hits theaters.

in Lifestyle

Amazon offers 3D printing to customize products

A box from Amazon.com is pictured on the porch of a house in Golden, Colorado on July 28, 2008.

Amazon will offer 3D printing services that allow customers to customize and build earrings, bobble head toys and other items.

in Lifestyle

U.S. doctor contracts Ebola in Liberia

In this 2014 photo provided by the Samaritan's Purse aid organization, Dr. Kent Brantly, left, treats an Ebola patient at the Samaritan's Purse Ebola Case Management Center in Monrovia, Liberia. On Saturday, July 26, 2014, the North Carolina-based aid organization said Brantly tested positive for the disease and was being treated at a hospital in Monrovia.

American doctor, Kent Brantley, has tested positive for the tropical disease Ebola.