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Friday, April 11, 2014

Panel blasts Eric Holder for acting on his own, OKs less time for nonviolent drug crimes -- By Kelly Riddell and Kellan Howell, The Washington Times

The U.S. Sentencing Commission included a rebuke of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. while approving reduced sentencing guidelines for certain nonviolent drug offenses. (Associated Press)The U.S. Sentencing Commission approved Thursday an amendment to reduce sentencing guidelines for certain nonviolent drug offenses, a unanimous decision that nonetheless included a sharp rebuke of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. for directing federal prosecutors to use the guidelines before they had been approved.

Coming amid bipartisan efforts to better manage corrections, the amendment is expected to reduce the federal prison population by 3 percent — or 6,550 inmates — over the next five years by lowering the average sentence for certain drug traffickers by about 11 months. Nearly half of the more than 216,000 federal inmates are serving time for drug-related crimes, and the Justice Department spends $6.4 billion annually to maintain prisons.

Overall, the U.S. spends more than $80 billion a year on corrections.

Under the amended guidelines, judges would be allowed to impose sentences lower than the mandatory minimum for nonviolent drug-related offenses. Current guidelines are higher than the mandatory minimum sentences judges are permitted to issue. The commission said the amendment should produce lower sentences for about 70 percent of nonviolent drug traffickers.

"Our country is slowly but steadily reversing the damage done by the failed, racially biased war on drugs," said Jesselyn McCurdy, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "The actions taken by the Sentencing Commission today are another positive move toward reducing unnecessarily long sentences that have led to bloated, overcrowded prisons. Our criminal justice system is smarter, fairer, and more humane than it was a year ago, and we need to make sure momentum continues in the right direction."

The amendment now goes to Congress, which has 180 days to make any changes. If lawmakers do nothing, the resolution will become effective Nov. 1.

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