On Friday, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to make newly instituted guidelines, which lowered prison sentences for most federal drug offensives retroactive in full to all prisoners serving time under the current guideline umbrella. Consequently, around 50,000 drug offenders currently serving sentences will have an opportunity to apply to have a judge review their sentences using the new standards in place.
The entire body of the Commission voted in favor to make the decision retroactive, but it isn’t an automatic coup for prisoners, because many could be held up until Nov. 1, 2015. Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice has been monitoring the machinations leading up to the decision, and Mr. Holder offered a statement applauding the Commission for their vote.
From Attorney General Holder:
The department looks forward to implementing this plan to reduce sentences for certain incarcerated individuals. We have been in ongoing discussions with the Commission during its deliberations on this issue, and conveyed the department’s support for this balanced approach. In the interest of fairness, it makes sense to apply changes to the sentencing guidelines retroactively, and the idea of a one-year implementation delay will adequately address public safety concerns by ensuring that judges have adequate time to consider whether an eligible individual is an appropriate candidate for a reduced sentence.
At my direction, the Bureau of Prisons will begin notifying federal inmates of the opportunity to apply for a reduction in sentence immediately. This is a milestone in the effort to make more efficient use of our law enforcement resources and to ease the burden on our overcrowded prison system.
Congress has until November 1, 2014 to take action against the new guidelines. If they decide not to act, then prisoners will have opportunities to petition judges to begin their release process.