In an unprecedented move earlier this year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to drastically reduce the sentencing recommendations for non-violent convicts of drug-related crimes.
Just this past Friday, in a move that received shockingly little press, that same U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to apply the same guidelines to eligible inmates already serving time behind bars. Though no inmates will see an early release thanks to the new legislation until November of 2015 at the earliest, experts says that as many as 46,000 currently incarcerated prisoners will be eligible to apply for an expedited sentence.
Prisoners who were convicted of “victimless” drug-related crimes will be able to have their case re-visited. Their plea for freedom will be heard by a new judge, who will attempt to determine if each individual prisoner still poses a threat to their community. For those who qualify for the get out of jail card, sentences are expected to be cut by an average of 25 months.
This latest move serves as part of an ongoing effort by the Obama Administration to attempt to re-balance the scales of justice a bit after 30 years of Reagan’s utter failure of a war on drugs.
In 2011, the same Commission re-wrote the judges’ handbook on how to assess penalties in cases of crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. Up until that point, crack cocaine (typically found in the ‘hood) would get you more time than powder coke (typically found in the ‘burbs).
Proponents of the early release program are fighting primarily for the freedom of the unjustly prosecuted inmates in our country, but also point to the significant budget implications that such a move may have nationwide.
Currently, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is operating at over 32% above its capacity. Annually, it consumes roughly 1/3rd of the entire budget for the Department of Justice. And sadly, nearly 50% of America’s prisoners are doing time for drug crimes.
Freeing up the resources required to board 46,000 adult inmates would not only allow the country’s prisons to be operated more efficiently by the BOP, but could go a long way towards shoring up a shoestring budget for the Justice Department as a whole.
Congress has until November of this year to raise a stink about the deal, though even in an election year few people think that the Republican-held House will have the guts to challenge the highly popular policy change.
Should Congress neglect to appeal, prisoners will immediately begin filing their requests for leniency, with the first lucky candidates seeing their release dates moved up to November of next year.