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 Local Sports

Neagle, Martins propel Sounders past Rapids 3-1

Fresh
Seattle Sounders players pose for the traditional pre-match team portrait before their season-opener MLS soccer match against the New England Revolution, Sunday, March 8, 2015, in Seattle.

Seattle had not scored in its previous two road games this season.

in Local Sports

Hernandez strikes out 12 as Seattle beats Texas 3-1

felix hernadez seattle mariners mlb generic

Felix Hernandez struck out 12 over seven innings

in Sports

Saturday’s NHL Playoff Results

FILE - In this file photo taken Sept. 17, 2012, the NHL logo is seen on a goal at a Nashville Predators practice rink in Nashville, Tenn. The NHL eliminated 16 more days from the regular-season schedule Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, and if a deal with the players' association isn't reached soon the whole season could be lost. The league wiped out all games through Dec. 30 in its latest round of cancellations. Negotiations between the league and the players' association broke off last week, but NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Sunday the sides are trying to restart talks this week.

Lightning rebound to even series against Red Wings Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop stopped 24 shots for his first NHL playoff…

in Local Sports

Calgary coach Bob Hartley fined $50,000 by the NHL

Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley stands behind his bench during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. The Penguins won 3-1.

Hartley was fined by the NHL for his responsibility for a brawl late in the Flames' 4-1 loss in Vancouver on Friday

in Sports

NBA Playoffs: Warriors survive scare, Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Bulls decisive over Bucks, Rockets beat Mavs

Golden State Warriors shooting guard Stephen Curry gestures against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first quarter of Game 6 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, May 1, 2014.

Stephen Curry scored 34 points with an MVP-worthy performance, and the Golden State went up big before holding off New Orleans.