The Justice Department’s sweeping reductions in sentences for nonviolent drug offenders this year was heralded by advocates, liberal and conservative alike. When it comes to people already in prison for those very same drug offenses, the Justice Department is taking a very different stance, says BuzzFeed: A policy that would keep tens of thousands behind bars under the old guidelines, a decision that has set off a firestorm among advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle. The U.S. Sentencing Commission will vote today on the issue. In the balance: Whether 50,000 drug offenders serving time will be able to petition a judge to review their sentences according to the new standards. That number represents around one fourth of the federal prison population of 210,000.
“The Justice Department is being very pragmatic here,” said Doug Berman, a professor at Ohio State law school. In DOJ, there are fears about what allowing 50,000 prisoners to have their sentences reevaluated will mean. The Justice Department is urging the commission to adopt guidelines requiring drug cases involving a gun in any way or a more nebulous “obstruction of justice” to be ineligible for review by a judge. Justice Department officials have admitted some offenders worthy of sentence review could fall through the cracks, though they've said that's a necessary evil given the limited resources available. The Justice Department plan would cut the number of prisoners eligible for retroactivity from 50,000 to about 20,000.