The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted Friday to slash the sentences of 46,000 inmates serving time for drug offenses, the latest move by federal officials to ease decades-old policies that have clogged the nation's prisons.It's ironic, for all the rhetoric these days of getting "smart on crime" and reforming the criminal justice system, it took the USSC and its intestinal fortitude to do what no legislative, judicial or executive branch of the government would dare to do: let inmates who clearly don't belong behind bars out of prison early. Not even my favorite AG Eric Holder can claim credit for this since they advocated for a much narrower interpretation and number of inmates.
If the decision is not blocked by Congress, nearly half of federal prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes will be eligible for sentence reductions averaging more than two years. It would take effect Nov. 1, 2015.
The commission decided in April to reduce future sentences. Friday's vote extends the same approach retroactively to those already serving time.
As Doug Berman points out over at Sentencing Law and Policy, it's still up to the individual inmate to make the appeal for sentence reduction (it is not an automatic "prison holiday" for all 46,000 inmates, as dunderheads on the stuck-in-the-90's side have claimed). And whether or how these 46,000 inmates gain access to counsel to file an appeal for a reduced sentence is unknown.
Nonetheless, it's a bit of good news from the world of punishment and incarceration. It is still disappointing that our legislators, executives and courts are so fearful of allowing wrongfully convicted or inappropriately sentenced inmates out of our nation's prisons. But, baby steps, I suppose.
Bonus: John Oliver's take on this is absolutely dead on. Click the video to watch on Youtube.