[JURIST] The US Department of Justice [official website] on Tuesday announced support [press release] for a proposal that could reduce the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prisons. Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] requested that the proposed law be applied retroactively to felons who lacked significant criminal histories and whose offenses did not include aggravating factors. However, this reduction would not be applied to individuals who were sentenced with possession of a dangerous weapon or for obstruction of justice. Holder stated that “not everyone in prison for a drug-related offense would be eligible. Nor would everyone who is eligible be guaranteed a reduced sentence. But this proposal strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences.”
The reduction in sentencing is the latest action in the DOJ’s plan to reduce disparities for drug offenders in federal prisons. In April Holder announced that the DOJ was expanding its criteria [JURIST report] for recommending clemency to federal prisoners convicted of certain drug crimes. Last December under the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), President Obama commuted [JURIST report] the sentences of eight inmates serving time for cocaine-related crimes. Six of the inmates were serving life sentences, and, of those six, two were first-time offenders. In May of last year the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held [JURIST report] that inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses have a right to resentencing hearings under the FSA. The holding expanded the FSA to people whose cases were concluded before the law was passed. In June 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that the FSA applies to offenders who were sentenced after the Act was implemented, regardless of whether they were arrested before the act took effect. This overturned a US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decision upholding offenders’ original sentences based on old sentencing guidelines.