In the Obama administration’s latest move to end the war on drugs, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his support for a proposal that would reduce federal prison sentences for those convicted of dealing drugs.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission in January proposed reducing the average sentence for drug dealers from 62 months to 51 months.
Proposals to reduce sentencing are typically backed by Democrats in Congress, but ending the war on drugs is becoming an increasingly more bipartisan issue, even gaining the support of several Republicans in Congress.
Amending lengthy sentences for drug offenders at the federal level is an effort that will likely have multiple ramifications. Among other things, reducing drug sentences will decrease the overcrowded federal prison population, reduce recidivism, and ensure that punishments are issued proportionate to the crime.
Many individuals sentenced under federal drug sentencing guidelines are low-level drug offenders, many of them without previous offenses, or non-violent offenders. Sentencing amendments like the one recently backed by Holder aim to reduce prison sentences for individuals who meet these criteria.
Holder also noted that lengthy prison sentences for drug offenders perpetuate a cycle of poverty and rampant drug use in low-income and minority households. African-American offenders make up 37 percent of the federal prison population while only 13 percent of the nation’s population.
According to Holder, “This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges, while measured in scope, would nonetheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system.” He continued, “It would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety.”
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Approximately half of all federal prison inmates are currently doing time for drug offenses – that is, about 107,500 of 215,000 inmates. If these changes do go into effect, the government estimates that the federal prison population will decrease by over 6,000 inmates over the course of five years.