US backs less jail term for small-time traffickers

March 14, 2014 - 6:44:42 am
WASHINGTON: The Obama administration yesterday endorsed a proposal that would effectively knock nearly a year off the average sentence for small-time drug dealers in the United States.

Testifying before the US Sentencing Commission, which set out the proposal in January, Attorney General Eric Holder said the most serious drug traffickers would still face the toughest penalities once the changes are enacted.

“This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges, while measured in scope, would nevertheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system,” Holder said.

“And it would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety,” he added.

The Sentencing Commission, which sets sentencing guidelines for federal judges, is canvassing opinions on its proposal that the average sentence for drug dealers be reduced from the current 62 months to 51 months.

If adopted, the change — to take effect in November unless it is blocked by Congress — would affect nearly 70 percent of all drug trafficking offenders, and reduce by 6,550 the number of federal inmates after five years.

Nearly half of the 216,000 convicts now in federal prisons are doing time for drug-related crimes, in a country that spends $80 billion a year to lock up a staggering one-quarter of all the world’s prisoners.

“This focused reliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable,” Holder told the Sentencing Commission. “It comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

Holder’s remarks dovetailed with his instructions to federal prosecutors in August to no longer insist on mandatory minimum sentences “for certain nonviolent, low-level drug offenders.”