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U.S. Sentencing Commission Votes to Retroactively Apply Drug Sentencing Reforms

Retroactively applying these reforms is a smart step toward combating America’s mass incarceration crisis, which was created in part by overly harsh sentences for drug crimes.

July 18, 2014

Today, the U.S. Sentencing Commission ruled that its proposed amendment to federal drug sentencing guidelines, which would reduce recommended sentences for certain drug trafficking crimes, should be retroactively applied to offenders already in prison. The Brennan Center filed comments this month supporting broad retroactive application of the amendment.

“Retroactive application of this amendment is a smart step toward combating America’s mass incarceration crisis, which was created in part by overly harsh sentences for drug crimes,” said Inimai Chettiar, Director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “As recent reforms by Congress and the executive branch have shown, these sentences are now widely considered excessively severe. Congress should allow the new guidelines to take effect in order to shift our outdated sentencing regime toward prioritizing proportionality of punishment.”

The sentencing guidelines help federal judges determine appropriate sentences for offenders. The Commission’s proposal, Amendment 3, would reduce sentences for most federal drug offenders by an average of 11 months, or nearly 18 percent. Retroactive application could affect more than 46,000 current federal prisoners.

If Congress does not vote to reject the amended guidelines by November 2014, eligible offenders can ask courts for sentence reductions. Offenders granted sentence reductions by the courts can be released no earlier than November 2015.

Click here to read the Brennan Center’s comments supporting retroactive application of the new sentencing guidelines.

Click here to read more about the Brennan Center’s work to improve our criminal justice system.

For more information or to interview a Brennan Center expert, please contact Naren Daniel at (646)292–8381 or