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Dropping Drug Time



"Bongress" ("Week in Weed," June 5) notes pending legislation with possible "positive impacts" on defendants currently serving mandatory minimum sentences. The United States Sentencing Commission is accepting public comment on making drug guidelines retroactive. The deadline for public comment is July 7.

Congress established the commission in 1984 to guide federal sentencing policy and practices. Last year, the commission received more than 14,000 letters in response to its invitation for public comment during its annual review, which likely led to the review of drug guidelines.

After receiving more than 20,000 letters this year during a public comment period, the commission voted to reduce the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug offenders. In its April 10 press release, the "commission estimates that approximately 70 percent of federal drug trafficking defendants would qualify for the change, with their sentences decreasing an average of 11 months, or 17 percent, from 62 to 51 months on average."

Now, the commission is considering making these lower guidelines retroactive to drug offenders previously sentenced under the old guidelines.

A recent report by the National Research Council, "The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences," found that America's "unprecedented" levels of incarceration are resulting in great social harm:

"The United States has gone far past the point where the numbers of people in prison can be justified by social benefits and has reached a level where these high rates of incarceration themselves constitute a source of injustice and social harm."

Readers interested in the drug guidelines being made retroactive are urged to write the United States Sentencing Commission. Comments can be sent by email to public_comment@ussc.gov or by snail mail to U.S. Sentencing Commission, Attn: Public Affairs-Retroactivity Public Comment, One Columbus Circle, N.E., Suite 2-500, Washington, DC 20002-8002.

Rita Carlson, Manila

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