MEDIA CONTACT: Mike Riggs, Communications Director 202-822-6706
Washington, D.C. — On July 18, the U.S. Sentencing Commission will vote on whether to allow 51,000 federal drug prisoners to petition for early release from prison. An affirmative vote would allow nearly half the Bureau of Prison’s drug offender population to seek sentence reductions averaging 23 months.
The Commission’s vote on Friday follows a unanimous vote in April to lower federal drug guideline sentences. As a result of the April vote, the federal Sentencing Guidelines–which federal judges use to calculate sentences–will recommend lower sentences for drug offenders sentenced on or after Nov. 1, 2014. These changes will affect 70% of drug offenders and could reduce the federal prison population by 6,500 prisoners.
When the Commission lowers sentences, it has the option to make the reductions retroactive. Retroactivity allows prisoners to petition the federal courts for sentence reductions to match the sentences of incoming prisoners. For example, the Commission voted to make lower crack cocaine sentences retroactive for more than 24,000 prisoners in 2007 and 2011. Applying retroactivity this year would affect 51,000 prisoners over the course of 30 years, and save the BOP $2.4 billion. (Important note: Retroactivity is not automatic; every eligible prisoner has to petition the court in which they were sentenced.)
Families Against Mandatory Minimums, along with members of Congress, the Judicial Conference of the United States and individual judges, the American Conservative Union, the ACLU, the NAACP, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Council of La Raza, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, The Constitution Project, the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association, and more than two dozen other groups have asked the Sentencing Commission to continue its practice of making recent changes to the drug guidelines fully retroactive. They also urged the Commission to reject a proposal from the Department of Justice to exclude large categories of prisoners from eligibility for retroactivity.
The Commission will hold a public meeting at 1 p.m. EST Friday, July 18, to announce its decision. FAMM staff will be available to speak with media on July 17 and 18, and available by email through the weekend. Several FAMM staffers will be at the hearing, along with more than a dozen families who have loved ones behind bars who could benefit from full retroactivity. Journalists who would like to attend the hearing are advised to show up early, the USSC has told us they expect a full house. For more details about the hearing, visit the USSC website.