Attorney General Eric Holder today testified before the U.S. Sentencing Commission and endorsed less strict sentencing for most drug offenders. A proposal by the commission outlined in January and would lower the base offense matched to drug trafficking quantities by two levels. The commission is expected to vote on the proposal sometime in April.
The commission estimates that the proposal would lower sentences for around 70% of drug trafficking convictions and lower the average drug trafficking sentence by 11 months. It is also estimated that the proposal could lower the Bureau of Prisons population by around 6,550 inmates over five years.
The Sentencing Commission’s proposal is in-line with Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which was announced last summer. The initiative intends to ease sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders while keeping harsh mandatory minimum sentences for high-level drug traffickers or drug-related violence.
The ultimate goal of these initiatives is to ease the burden on the overcrowded U.S. prison system. In addition to reducing the incredible number of prisoners the U.S. incarcerates (25% of the world’s total prison population) the changes will, in theory, reduce the billions spend on incarceration in the country ($80 billion in 2010).
“This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges – while measured in scope – would nonetheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system,” said Holder. “And it would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety.”