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Reduced sentences in the cards for thousands of drug offenders?

Let us be honest: it is exceedingly rare for a politician, or any public official, to call for lower sentences for a criminal offense. For decades, the "soft on crime" label has been bandied about in political smear campaigns, and in the past it has proven to be a difficult stain to wash out. But while stamping an opponent as "soft on crime" might make for a good sound bite, very few people stopped to think about whether it was actually good policy.

Now everyone is paying for the mistakes of the past. Those accused of committing drug crimes are facing sentences that are often disproportionate and applied in a discriminatory fashion. Families are being unjustly deprived of providers and loved ones for years based on nonviolent crimes. And the American taxpayer is bearing the brunt of an overloaded federal prison system in which half the inmates are incarcerated on drug charges and the prison population swamps the intended maximum capacity of existing infrastructure by as much as 30 percent.

On July 18, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously for an historical proposal that could finally alleviate some of the burdens imposed by failed policies of the War on Drugs. Under the proposal, up to 46,000 inmates incarcerated on drug charges would become eligible to apply for reduced sentences.

The measure has garnered a stunning amount of support from public officials, advocacy groups and voters, making it unlikely that Congress will intervene to quash it. Sentence reductions would not be implemented until late in 2015, but drug offenders could begin to petition the courts for a reduction this fall.

If you are facing drug charges, or if you have been deprived of a loved one due to allegations of a drug crime, the new measure does not mean that there are no more hurdles to overcome in your future. But it does serve as an indicator that a willingness to promote fairer, more reasonable outcomes for those accused of drug offenses is finally permeating the public sphere.

Source: The Tribune, "Panel supports early release for 46K drug felons," Eric Tucker, July 18, 2014

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