The latest drug-sentencing changes proposed by Attorney General Eric Holder would cut the federal prison population by 6,550 within five years, the Justice Department tells the Washington Post. Of the 216,000 federal inmates, nearly half are serving time for drug-related crimes. As previously reported, Holder today will urge the U.S. Sentencing Commission to cut advisory sentencing guidelines for lower-level offenders. That would affect 70 percent of drug offenders. “Certain types of cases result in too many Americans going to prison for far too long, and at times for no truly good public safety reason,” Holder is telling the commission.
Like Holder's previous criminal justice reforms, the move will be hailed by civil liberties groups and assailed by some members of Congress. The seven-member sentencing panel has proposed an amendment to federal guidelines and will vote on it as soon as April. Holder will instruct his prosecutors today not to press judges to impose the longer sentences in the current guidelines if attorneys for drug offenders seek shorter sentences for their clients that would be permissible under the new policy. Under current mandatory minimum guidelines, a drug offender convicted of possessing 500 grams of cocaine or 28 grams of crack would face a term of 63 to 78 months. Holder is proposing that the time be reduced to 51 to 63 months.