As the federal government takes steps to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offenses, California legislators are considering making similar changes.
A bill under consideration by the state legislature would permit prosecutors to treat minor drug offenses as misdemeanors, instead of felonies, Bloomberg reports. The measure would reduce the amount of time a convicted person would spend in prison, and could help ease prison crowding, the article notes.
“One of the best ways to promote lower crime rates is to provide low-level offenders with the rehabilitation they need to successfully reenter their communities,” said State Senator Mark Leno in a news release, when the measure he sponsored passed in the state Senate in May. “However, our current laws do just the opposite. We give non-violent drug offenders long terms, offer them no treatment while they’re incarcerated, and then release them back into the community with few job prospects or opportunities to receive an education.”
The bill is pending in the state Assembly.
Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a Justice Department plan to change how some non-violent drug offenders are prosecuted. Low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who are not tied to large-scale drug organizations or gangs will not face mandatory minimum sentences.
Under the plan, severe penalties will be used only for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. Holder will give federal prosecutors instructions about writing their criminal complaints when they charge low-level drug offenders, in order to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences. Certain laws mandate minimum sentences regardless of the facts of the case. Some changes proposed in the plan will require legislative changes, such as giving federal judges more leeway in applying mandatory minimum sentences to certain drug offenses.