Many federal drug offenders would serve reduced prison sentences, under recommendations adopted yesterday by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, reports McClatchy Newspapers. Voting unanimously, the panel the commission agreed to new advisory sentencing guidelines that are expected to cover about 70 percent of federal drug defendants. On average, the changes would cause drug sentences to decrease 11 months, or 17 percent, from 62 to 51 months. The commission has estimated that the changes would cut the federal prison population by more than 6,500 over five years.
U.S. District Judge Patti Saris, commission chair, called the reduction “an important step toward reducing the problem of prison overcrowding at the federal level in a proportionate and fair manner.” The proposed changes were praised by the American Civil Liberties Union and Attorney General Eric Holder, who called them “a milestone in our effort to reshape the criminal justice system's approach to dealing with drug offenders.” If Congress does not disapprove the changes, they will go into effect in November. The advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums says it is not yet clear if the changes would apply to offenders already sentenced.