Justice Department Moves to Make Sentencing Guidelines Retroactive - Thousands Could Be Freed

The United States Justice Department has asked President Obama for the early release of low-level drug offenders who were sentenced under previous mandatory minimum sentencing restrictions. There are many inmates currently serving 25 years to life in prison for non-violent and first-time drug offenses.

On Thursday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole petitioned defense lawyers to locate prisoners who were currently serving these types of sentences and urge them to ask for clemency.

In mid-December of last year, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight prisoners. His administration is continuing in their effort to undo the damage undoubtedly caused by harsh sentences. For years, many have noted that these tough sentencing guidelines that were implemented during the height of the nation's crack cocaine epidemic are now only good for perpetuating a cycle of poverty and recidivism, particularly for black males.

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was effective in reducing the mandatory sentences required for crack cocaine offenses, making them more similar to powder cocaine sentences. The eight inmates who got their sentences commuted last month were sentenced under the old crack cocaine guidelines.

Congress has proposed a bill that, if passed, would make sentencing guidelines retroactive. What this means is that as many as 12,000 inmates currently serving time for non-violent and low-level drug offenses could petition to have their sentences reduced. As opposed to clemency applications, which could take years and is not guaranteed to have any effect, the passage of this bill present a more swift and organized solution.

Our government isn't perfect, but making the 2010 federal re-sentencing law retroactive would mitigate some of the harshest drug crime punishments that never fit the crimes. Our federal drug sentencing guidelines remain draconian but passing this bill would be substantial forward progress for criminal justice and civil rights.