Over 46,290 offenders should be eligible to have their cases reviewed.

Tens of thousands of American serving time for federal drug crimes could see their sentences reduced. On Friday the United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to retroactively apply their reduction in sentencing guideline levels on federal drug trafficking cases.

Back in April the commission amended the guidelines to lower the base offense levels in
the Drug Quantity Table, which will result in shorter sentences for new drug offenders. Now the commission has decided to let these guidelines also apply to people currently serving time.

Prisoners will be able to petition a judge to have their sentences reduced to what they would be under the new guidelines. One big caveat in the commission’s decision is the reductions can’t take effect until November 1, 2015. The delay is intended to allow time for the appropriate consideration of individual petitions by judges and to prepare for effective reentry plans.

According to the commission over 46,290 offenders should be eligible to have their cases reviewed by a judge. Those eligible offenders could have their sentences reduced by an average of 25 months. This would result in real financial savings for the government.

“This vote not only restores a sense of fairness to our criminal justice system, it’s going to restore lives and families,” said Families Against Mandatory Minimums President Julie Stewart. “But as happy as we are today, we have to remember that this single act won’t undo decades of overly harsh sentencing policies. We need reform from the other branches of government. The House and the Senate must pass the Smarter Sentencing Act.”

Congress has until November 1st of this year to disapprove of this policy. Given that the Senate has recently been working on their own sentencing reform measures and Congress in general has been gridlocked, it is very unlikely they will intervene to stop this change.

Photo by sean hobson under Creative Commons license