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.

Latest News

11 mins ago in Entertainment

‘Star Wars’ breaks new record

Fresh
24-overlay-2

The sci-fi epic, directed by J.J. Abrams, previously became the highest-grossing release in North American film history, after recently passing the $760.5 million "Avatar" hauled in in 2009.

25 mins ago in Entertainment

PewDiePie, others set to star in YouTube’s first original shows

Fresh
youtube

YouTube's viral video stars, many of whom have a fan following in the millions, are set to appear in original movies and a show, as the video site attempts to attract users to its paid service.

35 mins ago in Music

David Bowie’s widow Iman breaks silence

Fresh
bowieliveaid

The couple was married for almost 24 years and the rocker left more than $100 million to his wife in his will.

40 mins ago in Entertainment

‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ trumps ‘Hail, Caesar!’

Fresh
12-overlay-5

Hollywood fumbled the ball during a quiet Super Bowl weekend at the multiplexes as new releases such as “Hail, Caesar!” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” failed to make much noise.

1 hour ago in Sports, Trending, Viral Videos

TODAY’S MUST SEE: Super Bowl 50 commercials

Fresh
14-overlay-1

A 30-second commercial spot on Super Sunday can cost up to $5 million. Which Super Sunday ad was your favorite?