Sentencing reform leads to early release for thousands

Following reforms to sentencing guidelines made by the U.S. Sentencing Commission last year, about 6,000 federal inmates, many of them in Florida, are being granted early release, according to the Washington Post. The early release mainly applies to those who were convicted of non-violent drug offenses and who had good prison records. While the U.S. Sentencing Commission is an independent body, bipartisan efforts are currently underway in Washington and across the U.S. to pass legislation that would reduce sentences, especially mandatory minimum sentences, for many drug crimes.

Early release

Last year the U.S. Sentencing Commission retroactively reduced the sentences for thousands of drug offenders. The reduction policy is sometimes referred to as "Drugs Minus Two" because the sentencing value for many convicted drug offenders was reduced by two levels.

The reforms mean that over 6,000 federal inmates were released from prison between October 30 and November 1, although about a third of them are being transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for eventual deportation. Texas is seeing the largest number of inmates released, with 597, while Florida the second largest, with 310.

Sentencing reform

While the Sentencing Commission made its reforms independent of any political guidance, the momentum to pass lasting federal legislation to reform drug sentencing laws is growing. As The Atlantic reports, the proposed Smarter Sentencing Act, which will soon be voted on by Congress, has substantial bipartisan support and would reduce sentencing guidelines for many drug offenses. In fact, the support for sentencing reform is so strong that even many police chiefs and prosecutors, two groups not exactly known for their "soft on crime" positions, have come out in support of reducing drug sentences.

The main targets of reform efforts are mandatory minimum sentences, many of which were passed decades ago and which imposed harsh and sometimes lifelong sentences for relatively minor drug offenses. Sentencing reform supporters point out that lengthier sentences have been shown to have no effect on reducing the likelihood of recidivism. In addition, the high number of people incarcerated because of mandatory minimum sentences has led to significant strain on the prison system. The number of people serving a mandatory minimum sentence in a federal prison, for example, rose 178.1 percent between 1995 and 2010, from 40,104 to 111,454.

Drug charges

While drug sentences are currently being reformed in many states and at the federal level, it is important not to make the mistake of assuming that a drug charge will somehow be taken less seriously by police and prosecutors today. In fact, Florida still maintains some of the toughest drug laws in the nation and anybody facing such charges needs to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. The first 24 hours after a charge has been laid are vital and an attorney can advise defendants on how to proceed both during those critical first hours and in the days and weeks afterwards.