Rethinking Drug Sentences Comes Too Late for Some

Post Date: August 20, 2013

(CNN) — When Stephanie Nodd walked out of prison two years ago, she found herself in a new world.

Her five children were grown. Computers and cell phones were everywhere. Her hometown of Mobile, Alabama, had seen a thriving nightlife district emerge in its once-sleepy downtown.

Nodd had emerged after spending 21 years in federal prison for her first and only conviction: conspiracy to sell crack cocaine. Like tens of thousands of others, she was given a lengthy prison term under laws passed to battle the rise of crack cocaine in the 1980s.

The charges never accused her of any violent crime. But prosecutors identified her as a “trusted lieutenant” of a drug ring that was dealing crack in Mobile.

In 1990, at age 23, Nodd was sentenced to 30 years. She had no prior convictions.

“That was the first time I’d been in trouble,” she said.

In recent years, policymakers have been rethinking the laws that packed federal prisons with drug convicts like Nodd . One of those changes allowed her to get out nine years early, in 2011.

And last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the federal government will no longer pursue charges that could lead to mandatory minimum sentences for some low-level, nonviolent drug convicts.

If Nodd were arrested today, she’d likely spend no more than 10 years in prison, and perhaps less.

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