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6,000 People to Be Released From Federal Prison Following New Drug Sentencing Guidelines

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/10/2015 Anthony Papa
PRISON © Radio-Canada PRISON

It was announced today that starting November 1, 6,000 federal prisoners are to be released from federal prison, an unprecedented move that is the result of changes made by the U.S. Sentencing Commission last year that lowered federal sentencing guidelines for people convicted under draconian drug war-era laws.

The good news reflects efforts underway in Congress and by the Obama administration to reform federal drug sentencing laws, as well as a broader effort to adapt federal policy to overwhelming public support for reforming drug laws.
Last week, a bipartisan group of Senators announced a historic deal on criminal justice reform, rounding out a negotiation process that has lasted almost five months. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release, among other things.
According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, mandatory minimums have significantly contributed to overcrowding and racial disparities in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP operates at nearly 140% capacity - and more than half of the prisoners in the BOP are serving time for a drug law violation. Even though African-Americans are no more likely than white people to use or sell drugs, evidence shows they are far more likely to be prosecuted for drug law offenses and far more likely to receive longer sentences than white people. With less than 5% of the world's population - but nearly 25% of the world's prison population - the U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its own citizens.
"This move is heartening and long-overdue, but it's no substitute for systemic reforms that cut off the cycle of mass incarceration," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress still needs to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform. Responding to bipartisan support for criminal justice reform, the sentencing commission took several steps in recent years to reduce the federal prison population. Their last reform will result in thousands being released from prison early and transferred to half-way homes. Many more are left behind, trapped under draconian mandatory minimums that only Congress can change. The sentencing commission has done its job - now, it's time for Congress to do its job," added Collins.
As someone who has felt the sting of the drug war when I was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for a non-violent drug crime, it warms my heart to hear that 6,000 people will be coming home. The drug war has devastated families and communities and it is time for the healing to begin.

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