Pubdate: Wed, 07 Oct 2015
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


(AP) - Thousands of federal inmates serving sentences for drug crimes 
are set for early release next month under a cost-cutting measure 
intended to reduce the nation's prison population.

The more than 5,500 inmates set to go free in November are among the 
first of what could eventually be tens of thousands eligible for 
release. The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted last year to 
retroactively apply substantially lower recommended sentences for 
those convicted of drug-related felonies.

The commission, an independent panel that sets federal sentencing 
policy, estimated the prison terms would be cut by an average of 25 months.

Under the program, a judge reviews each prisoner's case to decide if 
his or her release would jeopardize public safety. Most of those 
eligible for consideration have already served 10 years or more.

The Justice Department estimates that roughly 40,000 prisoners could 
benefit from the program in the coming years.

The changes are part of a national bipartisan effort to rethink 
decades-long sentences for drug offenders, who are roughly half the 
federal prison population.

Reform advocates have long criticized sentencing disparities rooted 
in 1980s War on Drugs legislation that targeted crack cocaine.

The Justice Department issued new clemency criteria last year 
designed to encourage thousands of additional inmates to seek an 
early release. Two years ago, then-Attorney General Eric Holder 
directed federal prosecutors to avoid seeking mandatory minimum 
sentences - which limit the discretion of judges to impose shorter 
sentences - for nonviolent drug offenders.

Though sentencing guidelines are advisory rather than mandatory, 
judges still rely heavily on them in deciding on prison sentences. 
The guidelines recommend sentences that factor in the types and 
quantities of the drugs. The commission in April voted to lower 
recommended sentences across all types of drug offenses.
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