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New Rules for Sentencing Low-Level Drug Offenders Could be Retroactive

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The U.S. Sentencing Commission held a hearing Tuesday on whether to make new guidelines on reducing prison sentences for low-level drug offenders retroactive for current inmates. The guidelines would shorten sentences for some nonviolent, low-level drug offenders.

Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the new guidelines on Tuesday. He said the guidelines will make the federal prison system more fair to minorities, and will reduce taxpayer costs, The Washington Times reports.

Under the guidelines, about 20,000 of the almost 215,000 inmates in federal prisons would be eligible for reduced sentences. Nonviolent, low-level drug offenders who do not have deep criminal ties would qualify for retroactive sentences, the article notes.

The commission voted in April to reduce the base offense for criminals caught with various amounts of drugs. Holder wants to make the changes retroactive, to apply to those already in prison.

“Under the department’s proposal, if your offense was nonviolent, did not involve a weapon, and you do not have a significant criminal history, then you would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence in accordance with the new rules approved by the Commission in April,” Holder said in a news release. “Not everyone in prison for a drug-related offense would be eligible. Nor would everyone who is eligible be guaranteed a reduced sentence. But this proposal strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences.”

The Justice Department says reducing mandatory-minimums will save billions of dollars. One-quarter of the department’s budget is used to maintain federal prisons, accounting for about $6.4 billion annually.

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