US Sentencing Commission votes unanimously to reduce sentences of nonviolent drug offenders retroactively

Image Credit:  Tim Pearce

Image Credit: Tim Pearce


The U.S. Sentencing Commission has passed a measure that will reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders in federal prisons.  These reductions will be applied retroactively.  As the Wall Street Journal reports:

The panel estimates it would make 46,290 offenders eligible for possible sentence reductions, or one out of every five inmates in the federal system. Currently, the Bureau of Prisons says the federal inmate population exceeds capacity by 32%, and the cost of housing those inmates consumes an increasingly large share of the Justice Department’s budget.

This news comes on the heels of a study from the Journal of Crime and Delinquency that claims that half of black American males and 40% of white American males suffer arrests by the age of 23.

There is a building overlap of support for measures such as this to reduce the incarceration rate of the United States.  Conservatives have been warning about the unsustainable costs of an overburdened prison system, whereas the Obama Administration’s Justice Department has been seeking to lessen the severity of sentencing requirements over social justice concerns.

But the most significant sign of this building arc of consensus over criminal justice reform has evidenced itself in the Senate with the cross-partisan alliance of Senator Cory Booker and Senator Rand Paul, who have come together to sponsor a sweeping reform measure.  Politico reports:

The measure, called the REDEEM Act, has several pillars: It encourages states to change policies so children are directed away from the adult criminal justice system; automatically expunges or seals — depending on their age — criminal records of juveniles who committed nonviolent crimes; and limits solitary confinement of children, except in rare circumstances.

The legislation also creates a path for adults with nonviolent offenses to seal their criminal records and restores food stamp and welfare benefits for low-level drug offenders who have served their sentences.

These small steps towards criminal justice reform are encouraging, but real justice will always be out of reach as long as the Drug War rages on.  As long as law enforcement are able to pursue practices such as no-knock raids on non-violent drug tips (encouraging victims to defend themselves, turning their non-violent crime into violent crime) — or allowed to perform such inhumane harassments as running the names on the hospital visitor list to comb for parole violators — then we will still have serious lacks of justice in this country.  Justice reform without enforcement reform has no teeth.