U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ)

The U.S. Sentencing Commission will vote next month on a proposal to allow people serving time in federal prison for certain nonviolent drug offenses to retroactively apply for a sentence reduction.

The proposal is part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s effort to address an overcrowded federal prison system that Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. says is “exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences” for drug offenses.

In April, the Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to reduce the sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug-trafficking defendants by an average of 11 months. The commission said the move would reduce the inmate population by about 6,500 prisoners over the next five years.

“Not everyone in prison for a drug-related offense would be eligible. Nor would everyone who is eligible be guaranteed a reduced sentence,” Holder said in a statement. “But this proposal strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences.”

With the passage of the new guidelines, the drug quantities of individuals who committed offenses without the use of firearms, a deadly weapon or threatening behavior will be reduced by two levels. Any retroactive application could, on average, reduce sentences by nearly two years, the Justice Department said.

Of the 216,896 federal inmates, reports the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 100,888—or nearly half—are serving time for drug offenses.

Contact Jimmy Hoover at jhoover@alm.com. On Twitter: @jimmyhoover3.