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New Sentencing Commission recommendations on federal drug offenders

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Thursday, April 10, 2014, at 8:03 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, April 10, 2014, at 8:53 p.m.

Many federal drug offenders would serve reduced prison sentences, under recommendations adopted Thursday by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Acting unanimously, the commission agreed to new sentencing guidelines that are expected to cover about 70 percent of federal drug defendants. On average, the changes would cause drug sentences to decrease 11 months, or 17 percent, from 62 to 51 months.

The commissioner further estimated the changes would cut the federal prison population by more than 6,500 over five years. Judge Patti B. Saris, the chair of the commission called the reduction “an important step toward reducing the problem of prison overcrowding at the federal level in a proportionate and fair manner.”

Saris was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama. The seven voting members of the commission are split between the parties.

The proposed changes were praised both by the American Civil Liberties Union and Attorney General Eric Holder, who called them “a milestone in our effort to reshape the criminal justice system’s approach to dealing with drug offenders.”

The amendments will be transmitted to Congress by May 1. If Congress does not act, they will go into effect Nov. 1.

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