USSC Agrees to Consider Reducing Drug Guidelines; Move is Latest Example of Policymakers Rethinking Punishment for Nonviolent Offenders

Post Date: August 16, 2013

FAMM vice president and general counsel Mary Price hailed a decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to consider lowering the guidelines judges use to sentence drug dealers. At an August 15 meeting, the Commission agreed to consider the potential change among its priorities for the 2014 amendment cycle.  

“We applaud the Commission’s decision,” Ms. Price said.  “If it follows through and reduces all drug guidelines by two levels as we expect it will, this modest change will save taxpayers millions of dollars while improving public safety.” 

The Commission’s drug guidelines provide federal judges with recommended sentence ranges for drug offenses not covered by the mandatory minimum.  Mandatory minimums are triggered by drug type and quantity.  For example 5 grams of methamphetamine triggers a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence.  The guidelines are anchored by the mandatory minimum but are actually set slightly higher.  

Price said that the Commission’s decision could yield major benefits because nearly half the federal prison population is made up of prisoners convicted of drug crimes.  With federal prisons currently operating nearly 40 percent above capacity, lowering drug sentences would help to reduce the overcrowding.   The Commission is already under a mandate from Congress that it draft guidelines cognizant of the capacity of the federal Bureau of Prisons.  

 “This move caps a remarkable week launched by the announcement of new charging priorities by the Attorney General aimed at reserving drug mandatory minimums for serious offenders and filled with the promise of mandatory minimum reform in Congress,” said Ms. Price.  “A new, reform-minded wind is blowing into Washington.  It is fueled by states that have reduced their reliance on over-incarceration without compromising public safety.  The Sentencing Commission’s decision to do its part could lower sentences for thousands of drug defendants annually, saving valuable space in federal prisons.”  

The Commission also announced a set of additional priorities, including efforts to promote mandatory minimum reform, reconsider the economic crime guidelines, and take a close look at recidivism.  The Commission is expected to publish any new guidelines and amendments of existing guidelines for comment before spring 2014 and must send its final recommendations to Congress by May 1, 2014.  If not disapproved by Congress, the new guidelines will go into effect on November 1, 2014. 

For more information, contact Monica Pratt Raffanel, media@famm.org

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