The U.S. Sentencing Commission decided Friday that nearly 50,000 federal drug offenders now in prison are eligible for reduced sentences, a move that could flood federal courts and prosecutors with applications for leniency, the Washington Post reports. The panel unanimously made retroactive an earlier change that had lightened potential punishments for most future drug offenders who are sentenced starting in November. The change now will be extended to 46,000 current inmates.
Nearly half of the nation's 100,000 federal drug inmates can apply for reductions. Those eligible could have their sentences shaved by an average of about two years. Congress has until November to void the move, which would take effect next year, but there is little indication of opposition. The Post calls the commission vote “the latest sign of an emerging shift in the country's approach to criminal justice, particularly illegal drugs, in which the prevailing tough-on-drugs mentality is giving way to an increased emphasis on treatment and health.” Democrats and some Republicans have supported slicing sentences for federal drug crimes, while at least 30 states have modified drug-crime penalties since 2009.