Sentences for Drug Trafficking Offenses

State and federal governments spent a combined $80 billion on incarceration in 2010 alone.  State and federal prison and detention budgets have been increasing steadily, critically short changing other areas of public safety. Nearly 40 percent of federal prisoners and over 60 percent of state prisoners reoffend or violate the terms of their community supervision within three years after release. It is not unreasonable to believe that this unreasonably high recidivism rate would be reduced if more resources were spent on re-entry programming.

In light of the fact that almost half of all federal inmates are serving time for drug-related crimes  (and this figure is probably consistent in state courts as well), the Department of Justice is supporting a proposal by the Federal Sentencing Commission to revise the Drug Quantity Table. In the federal system, a person’s length in prison is determined by the quantity of drugs he or she either possesses or traffics. The Sentencing Commission is proposing a modest change in the offense levels associated with quantities. The Department of Justice agrees with the proposed amendment. It would have the effect of reducing the Guideline penalties for drug trafficking offenses while keeping the Guidelines consistent with the goal of ensuring higher penalties for drug offenders involved in violence, or who are career criminals, or who use weapons in their offenses.

While we should be applauding this modest reduction, it is hoped that there will be continued reductions in the future. The Sentencing Commission, in determining the Drug Quantity Table, initially chose drug amounts that corresponded with lengths of sentences that they thought were appropriate – in other words, they were totally arbitrary. As stated earlier, the result has been to imprison individuals for extended sentences that only result in overcrowding our prisons and excessive costs to the taxpayers.

We need to continue to apply pressure to the Department of Justice and the Sentencing Commission to reserve the most severe penalties for the serious, violent drug traffickers, reducing penalties for other drug offenses, resulting in better promotion of public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation, while saving billions of dollars and strengthening communities.

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