The Maryland Senate unanimously approved a landmark criminal justice bill [bill, PDF] on Thursday. The bill, known as the Justice Reinvestment Act, would significantly change how non-violent drug offenders are sentenced, shifting focus from prison to treatment. The changes in the sentencing structure would allow the state to save money on prison costs and allow those serving mandatory minimums to appeal their sentences. Supporters believe these changes are needed to ensure public safety. The legislation now moves to the House [Baltimore Sun report] for consideration.
In July US President Barack Obama spoke at the NAACP Annual Convention and urged [JURIST report] Congress to reform the criminal justice system by enacting legislation that would enforce criminal laws fairly and reduce sentencing disparities. Earlier that week Obama commuted the sentences [JURIST report] of 46 drug offenders in what he said was part of an effort by his administration to remedy the unfairness of the criminal justice system. In 2014 the US Department of Justice announced support for reducing the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prisons after the US Supreme Court relaxed [JURIST reports] sentencing guidelines on drug dealers earlier that year. In 2013 the American Civil Liberties Union published a study [JURIST report] finding that 3,278 Americans are currently serving life sentences without parole for nonviolent offenses.