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Will Relaxed Drug Laws Ease Prison Numbers?

By James Donahue

As more and more states move to legalize marijuana use for medical and even recreational use, the pressure is being felt on state and national levels to ease mandatory prison terms for convicted drug offenders.

The U. S. Sentencing Commission, the federal agency that sets mandatory sentencing policies for judges, has agreed to allow tens of thousands of inmates serving time for drug crimes to apply for reduced sentences.

A story that appeared last week in Al Jazeera said all seven commission members voted unanimously to set the stage for a massive easing of prison overcrowding by reducing the sentencing terms for prisoners serving time on narcotics charges.

While the changing public attitude about marijuana use wasn’t singled out in the report, it is well known that most offenders are serving time for either growing or distributing quantities of cannabis.
The story noted that the commission decision followed a 2007 study of inmates serving time for crack cocaine charges that were released early. The study found that these people posed no greater risk of repetition than those that served their full terms.

The proposal for sentence reductions is a result of a growing wave of bipartisan support for criminal justice reform within the Obama Administration, the story said. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have both supported new policies that reduce the harsh sentencing guidelines for low-level, non-violent drug offenders who currently make up a large part of the federal prison population.

Congress can still vote to kill the commission’s decision. Members have until November 1 to vote to block the plan. If Congress decides to let the new rules stand, judges can then begin considering individual petitions for sentence reductions.
A special rule in the plan, however, prohibits the release of any prisoners until November 1, 2015.

At least it appears to be a step in the right direction.