According to a recent Congressional poll of both political parties on drug crime sentences, the “current system is overwhelmed and in desperate need of reform.”
Given that the U.S. prison population for just low-level drug offenders has risen to almost 2.5 million, it’s due time that sentencing disparities for drug offenders are truly addressed.
How we got here
The millions of people behind bars for drug crimes began to rise not long after the implementation of mandatory minimum sentence laws that were passed back in the late 1980s and early 90s.
During the era, the U.S. government was adamant about cracking down on crime-passing laws that imparted a lifetime behind bars for those convicted of certain drug crimes, regardless of the circumstance or an offender’s criminal history.
It wasn’t uncommon for individuals barely out of high school to receive a sentence that would guarantee they would die behind bars from old age-and judges could do next to nothing about it. One instance that gained popularity in recent years involved a 22-year-old first-time drug offender who was handed down three life prison sentences in the 90s with no possibility of parole.
But thanks to rising popularity of social media outlets, such drastic instances have gained widespread public attention.
Several years ago, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was signed into law that abolished the automatic 5-year prison sentence for simple crack cocaine crimes. Last year, Obama even recognized the need for reform, using his clemency power to set free eight inmates who were serving unfair sentences.
Now, both political parties seem to be on board to finally address the elephant in the room and pass real reform.
A new bill has been introduced that would give judges discretion to sidestep mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenses and instead use their judgment when handing down drug crime sentences. The bill would also eliminate current life-sentence mandates and replace them with 25-year terms.
Help for those already serving time for drug crimes
Drug offenders who are currently behind bars would benefit from the bill as well. Some could get a sentence reduction by up to 25 percent and others could receive job training and other rehabilitation assistance.
It remains to be seen just what language the bill will entail and how far it will go in really reforming the way the U.S. punishes nonviolent offenders.
Until then, if you are facing a drug charge, reach out to our firm for assistance.