U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has endorsed a proposal that would lower federal sentencing guidelines for defendants convicted of certain non-violent federal drug crimes. The proposal reflects the Obama Administration’s support for reducing mass incarceration in the United States.
The United States incarcerates a greater proportion of its population than every other country in the world, except for the tiny archipelago nation of Seychelles. U.S. prisoners account for 25% of the worldwide prison population, yet the United States represents only 5% of the overall world population. It is clear that US laws and regulations have become more strict over the years. Consequently, our prison population has risen 700% since 1970.
How Many People Are in U.S. Custody?
Here are some current facts about the total U.S. prison population, according to the Washington Post:
- More than 2.4 million people are currently incarcerated in US prisons;
- That’s more than four times the amount of those incarcerated in 1980;
- More than one in 100 American adults is behind bars;
- About 14 percent of those in prison are held in federal prison;
- The single largest contributor in the increase in the federal prison population since 1998 is longer sentences for drug offenders.
Effect of Sentencing Guideline Proposal
According to current federal sentencing guidelines, someone convicted of a crime involving 500 grams of powder cocaine could expect to receive a prison sentence between 63 and 78 months depending on additional factors. That’s about 5 to 6 ½ years.
If approved, the Attorney General’s proposal would reduce the average sentence for a federal drug defendant by 11 months. The expected sentence for that person would drop to a range of 51 to 63 months, according to an estimate provided by the Justice Department.
“Certain types of cases result in too many Americans going to prison for too long, and at times for no truly good law enforcement reason,” the Attorney General told the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
One in 28 U.S. children has a parent behind bars, Holder reported. “This focused reliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable. It comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate,” he said.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s seven member panel could vote on the proposal as soon as April after it finishes considering public comments on the issue.
What Does This Mean for Drug Offenders?
The Obama Administration’s proposal would not affect past cases. Convicted drug offenders already in federal prison would not be eligible for a reduction in their sentences. Additionally, the changes represent only about a 17% drop in sentencing. Furthermore, the proposal only affects federal and not state drug crimes. State prison and jail populations would be unaffected.
If the proposal is adopted, the federal prison population would fall by about 6,550 inmates over five years, according to Department of Justice estimates. There are about 216,000 federal inmates. This is a reduction of a mere .03%, which hardly makes a dent in the federal prison population, much less the overall U.S. incarceration rate.
But it’s a start.
By reducing prison terms for certain drug offenses, the federal government may be beginning to realize that mandatory minimum sentencing laws, a hallmark of criminal justice legislation in the 1980’s and 1990’s, may be to our nation’s detriment. Recently, political support for longer prison sentencing has weakened in Congress.
What Does Wallin & Klarich Think?
This proposal, which appears to have some bi-partisan support, is a solid step in the right direction. And there is more encouraging news seemingly to come.
Currently, democrats and republicans in the Senate are co-sponsoring legislation that would cut some mandatory minimum sentences in half. Federal criminal sentencing guidelines are notoriously out of sync with reason or practicability and have considerably worsened over the past forty years.
Punishing wrong-doing doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. In fact, supporting a prisoner’s reintegration back into society is both logical and practical. Studies have shown that emotional stressors can and often do trigger reoccurring offenses. Rehabilitation efforts that provide guidance and tools to help ex-cons succeed after leaving prison may substantially reduce this emotional stress.
Reducing the minimum requirement for long prison sentences of certain drug crimes is the first and best place to draw away from this trend of mass incarceration that has resulted in enormous financial, human and moral costs.
Wallin & Klarich Can Help You Fight Federal Drug Charges
If you or someone you know has been accused of a federal drug-related offense, contact our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich today. You need an attorney experienced with the federal court system to make certain all of your constitutional rights are protected.
Hiring an experienced federal drug crimes defense attorney from Wallin & Klarich is your best chance to avoid the serious consequences of a federal drug conviction. Even if the government lowers sentencing for your offense, you may still face a lengthy prison term and substantial fines. We may be able to reduce your charges and get you released to probation or have your case dismissed altogether.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience defending thousands of Southern California residents charged with state and federal drug crimes. We will aggressively fight to help you get the best result possible in your case.
Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.