Sentencing Commission Amendment Will Reduce Unnecessary Incarceration

April 10, 2014

Today, the U.S. Sentencing Commission issued a new guideline amendment, which will reduce sentences for most federal drug offenders by an average of 11 months. The guidelines help federal judges and prosecutors determine fair and consistent sentences for offenders. If Congress does not reject the amended guidelines within six months, it will take effect in November 2014. The Brennan Center filed comments in support of the new sentencing guidelines last month.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission proposal is a modest, but meaningful step toward slowing the growth of mass incarceration in America,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “If approved, it will be another sign of the growing momentum on left and right to roll back the overly harsh sentencing policies that caused our prison population to swell with nonviolent drug offenders.”

“Today’s action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission is commendable, and Congress should allow the new guideline amendments to take effect,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel at the Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C. office. “But in order to bring our criminal justice system back from the brink of crisis, it is imperative that Congress pass the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act, which will reduce the number of people given unnecessarily long prison sentences.”

Long drug sentences have been one of the main drivers of the 800 percent increase in the federal prison population since 1980. Currently, federal prisons are operating at 36 percent overcapacity, and many state prisons face similar overpopulation challenges.