Will Drug Prison Sentences Be Lowered?
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The Justice Department is recommending a change in jail sentence minimums by offering reduced or alternative punishments for less serious offenders, which includes low-level drug offenders. Many states have adopted these sentencing changes to relieve prison overcrowding and tight budgets, while penalties remain tough on violent and repeat drug offenders. Mandatory minimum sentences were a great success after they were established in 1984, "but they also took a great human and fiscal toll," says Jonathan Wroblewski, director of the Justice Department's policy and legislation office, in an annual report sent to the US Sentencing Commission. Now, experts say times have changed and the system needs to adapt. "Violent crime in the United States is now near generational lows," Wroblewski says. "At the same time, the US prison population exploded and overall criminal justice spending with it." The commission says it will review the guidelines for gun offenses, drug crimes, economic crimes and probation violations. The Justice Department's annual report—sent to the commission on Thursday—urges consideration of shorter sentences for non-violent offenders along with more thorough efforts to prevent repeat offending—a tactic many states have already enacted. "These changes have no doubt sprung in part out of budgetary necessity," Wroblewski says. "But they have also come from a growing understanding of new research into what works among various approaches to sentencing and corrections."