The United States houses a quarter of the world’s prison population. The Justice Department has an annual budget of about $27 Billion, a third of which is spent on operating the federal Bureau of Prison’s 120 facilities. Further, since 1980, the US population has grown by about a third, while the federal prison population has grown by about 800%. It is estimated that federal prisons are currently operating at about 40% over capacity. Much of this resulted from the harsh sentences imposed for drug-related crimes in the 1980s and 1990s, when the approach to this class of offenders was mass-incarceration.
In April, 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission, the body responsible for formulating sentences for federal offenses, generated new guidelines that reduced the penalties for non-violent drug crimes. It later said that the revised guidelines could be applied retroactively to many inmates serving long sentences for narcotics-related offenses, leading to inmate requests for reduced sentences.
The Commission’s actions on this issue coincide with bipartisan efforts to reverse the mass-incarceration approach to drug crimes. Indeed, a bipartisan group of senators recently proposed substantial revisions to federal sentences geared toward reducing mandatory minimum sentences and granting early release to inmates serving sentences disproportionate to their offenses. Continue reading