Sentencing Commission recommends retroactive sentence reductions for some drug offenders

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 18, 2014 

— An estimated 46,000 non-violent drug offenders, including more than 10,000 convicted in Texas alone, could get out of prison earlier, under recommendations adopted Friday by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

In a unanimous vote, the commission agreed to apply retroactively a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders. If Congress lets the recommendations take effect, 46,290 federal inmates could be eligible for reduced sentences beginning November 2015.

“It is a measured approach,” said Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the commission. “It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety.”

The commission’s analysis notes that Texas convictions account for 10,296 of the national total. Florida convictions account for 4,413 of the eligibly inmates, and California accounts for 2,667.

Offenders eligible for a reduction could have their sentences reduced by an average of 25 months. They would still serve 108 months, on average.

Hispanic offenders account for 43.5 percent of the eligible group. African-Americans account for 30.6 percent, and white inmates account for 23.3 percent of the total. The majority were convicted for methamphetamine or cocaine violations.

Attorney General Eric Holder praised the decision, calling it a “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.” Not all of the 60,000 public comments received, though, were so favorable.

In particular, some of the federal judges in Texas had argued against applying the sentence reductions.

“We will need some judge from a non-border state to move to each division on the border to handle the regular docket while those of us stationed on the border spend our time resentencing drug traffickers,” U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen wrote.

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