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Federal Ruling May Shorten Sentences For Drug Offenders

July 21, 2014, 6:03 PM by Brady Mallory

Federal Ruling May Shorten Sentences For Drug Offenders

Nearly half of inmates in America already serving time for drug crimes could get out of prison early. As many as 46,000 Americans in prison on drug offenses may be eligible for a reduced sentence thanks to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.  On Friday, the Commission voted unanimously to make recent reductions in sentencing guideline levels applicable retroactively.  Under the guidelines, the reduced sentences cannot take effect until November 1, 2015.

In South Dakota, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson said this could affect more than 20 inmates within that first year.  The overall total within the next ten years could add up.

"We're probably talking about several hundred individuals who have been sentenced on drug convictions that will receive a reduction in their sentence," Johnson said.

He said American taxpayers will save money as federal officials focus more on rehabilitation and treatment resources to keep men and women from re-offending, rather than keeping them locked up for lengthy sentences.

"That is no longer really a financially-viable solution, nor is it necessarily good public policy," Johnson said.

Though Johnson said the Sentencing Commission's ruling may be a better alternative, he says government officials will have to figure how to make still hold criminals accountable.

"Is it possible there will be folks who will take this and abuse it?  Yes," Johnson said.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, nearly half of all prisoners in America are locked up for drug crimes.  No offender would be released unless a judge reviews the case and determines that a reduced sentence would not pose a risk to public safety.  Johnson does not want people to see this news as a threat to public safety.

"What I don't want to do is to have people get the impression that, 'Oh, my goodness.  November 2015, we're going to have 100 drug offenders released in South Dakota.'  That won't be the case at all," Johnson said.

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