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Federal criminal sentencing reform forges steadily ahead

The so-called War on Drugs that has been the centerpiece of American policy at both the federal and state level for decades has been called many things, with negative comments dominating in recent years and reaching a veritable crescendo recently.

Here’s the take of Lucy Steigerwald, a columnist who recently wrote an article on criminal drug policies for The Washington Post.

Steigerwald collectively terms America’s drug laws as “dangerous domestic policy” that has left “a pulpy mass of casualties in its wake.”

Although that is certainly a harsh depiction, Steigerwald is far from alone in her views. Sentencing reform has been a front-page media topic for some time now, and many legislators on both sides of the political aisle have joined forces in demanding substantive changes. Reform cries have centrally focused on the reduction of prison -related costs, outcomes in more instances that stress probation and treatment in lieu of lengthy lockups, and leniency applied retroactively to high numbers of inmates currently serving long terms of incarceration for minor crimes.

Earlier this year, the United States Department of Justice announced a number of substantive reform changes that went into effect from November 1. Most fundamentally, those involve curbs on prosecutorial charging focused on mandatory minimums. Much criticism has been leveled at this practice, pursuant to which select defendants -- many of whom are nonviolent first offenders caught with relatively small amounts of drugs -- receive stringent prison terms that can last for decades. Critics decry such outcomes, as well as the reduced discretion provided judges when a mandatory minimum charge is brought.

Although Steigerwald applauds the reform changes, she notes that they apply only on in federal cases. Reportedly, there are about 400,000 state inmates across the country incarcerated on drug charges, and Steigerwald says that they “are out of luck unless they get individual commuting of their sentences.”

That could very well happen to some degree, given the strong reform tailwinds blowing across the United States presently.

Sentencing reform is obviously a very important topic, and we will be sure to keep our readers in North Carolina and elsewhere fully informed of material developments being discussed and implemented.

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