U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said today that the Justice Department backs a proposal under consideration by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to allow some people serving federal prison time for nonviolent drug offenses to be eligible for reduced sentences. The Commission, which sets advisory guidelines for sentences imposed on federal defendants, approved a proposal in April to lower, by two levels, the base offense associated with various drug quantities involved in drug trafficking crimes.
Next month, the panel will vote on whether the change, which is estimated to reduce the average sentence by 23 months, should be applied retroactively to individuals who are already in prison. DOJ is proposing that the commission make the revised guidelines retroactive for those who lack significant criminal histories and whose offenses did not include aggravating factors, such as the possession of a dangerous weapon or the use of violence. The Justice Department said this approach is consistent with its overall criminal justice reform efforts, which reserve the harshest penalties for the most serious criminals who pose the greatest threat to public safety.