Minnesota leaders have signed off on a plan, years in the making, to reduce the time spent behind bars for first-time drug offenders and better distinguish addicts from potentially violent drug dealers, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission voted 7-3 to overhaul the state's drug sentencing guidelines, reducing recommended prison sentences for first-time offenders convicted of first-degree drug possession from seven to four years, and sentences for first-degree drug sale from seven to five years. The commission also changed presumptive prison sentences in second-degree sale and possession cases to probation.
Unless the legislature intervenes to stop or alter the changes, they will take effect in August. Analysts say that the changes could save 523 prison beds in Minnesota by 2028. While the changes decrease the amount of prison time for the most serious drug dealers — a source of contention among some members — they also set more lenient sentences for those convicted of possession. The key, proponents said, is to enable treatment for addicts rather than let them languish behind bars. The changes also promote a uniform standard across Minnesota, where drug cases successfully prosecuted outstate often conclude with longer prison sentences than those in the metro area.