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DRUG POLICY



Sentencing policies brought about by the "war on drugs" resulted in a dramatic growth in incarceration for drug offenses. At the Federal level, prisoners incarcerated on a drug charge comprise half of the prison population, while the number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased thirteen-fold since 1980. Most of these people are not high-level actors in the drug trade, and most have no prior criminal record for a violent offense.

The Sentencing Project works actively to reform the federal mandatory penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses to make them more equitable and fair. To become involved visit our crack reform page.

Number of People in Prisons and Jails for Drug Offenses, 1980 and 2011

Drug Policy News
July 25, 2014 (The Daily Drum, WHUR at Howard University)
People incarcerated on non-violent drug charges are a bit closer to getting out of federal prison years early

The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently voted to apply reduced drug penalties retroactively to over 46,000 people serving excessive sentences for federal drug offenses -- potentially reducing average prison terms by two years.  

The vote reflects a historic shift in the nation’s approach to substance abuse. There’s an emerging consensus among both Republicans and Democrats that using the criminal justice system to address substance abuse is both too expensive and doesn’t work in terms of promoting public safety.  Policymakers of both parties are increasingly recognizing that the war on drugs has come at a ruinous cost for all Americans, but particularly for communities of color.

Jeremy Haile, federal advocacy counsel for The Sentencing Project, recently appeared with other advocates on The Daily Drum with Harold Fisher to discuss the Commission's vote and the changing politics of criminal justice reform. You can listen to a clip from the program here


July 23, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
New Publication: Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime

A new report by The Sentencing Project examines the potential for substantial prison population reductions. Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime: A Tale of Three States profiles the experiences of three states – New York, New Jersey, and California – that have reduced their prison populations by about 25% while seeing their crime rates generally decline at a faster pace than the national average.


July 18, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
U.S. Sentencing Commission Unanimously Votes to Reduce Drug Penalties Retroactively

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted today to apply reduced drug penalties retroactively to 46,000 prisoners serving excessive sentences for federal drug offenses.  In April the Commission amended the federal sentencing guidelines to reduce offense levels across drug types.  Today’s vote will help to alleviate the unsustainable burden on the federal prison system by allowing federal prisoners serving time for a drug offense to seek a reduction in their current sentence -- potentially reducing average prison terms nearly two years.  Unless Congress acts to disapprove the amendment, it will go into effect November 1, 2015.


July 18, 2014 (The New York Times)
New Rule Permits Early Release for Thousands of Drug Offenders

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of prisoners serving time for federal drug offenses will be eligible to seek early release beginning next year.

The United States Sentencing Commission, which voted in April to reduce the penalties for most drug crimes, voted unanimously on Friday to make that change retroactive. It will apply to nearly 50,000 federal inmates who are serving time under the old rules.


July 7, 2014
The Sentencing Project Urges Retroactivity for Reduced Federal Drug Penalties

The Sentencing Project is urging the U.S. Sentencing Commission to apply reduced penalties for federal drug offenses retroactively.  

In April, the Commission unanimously voted to lower penalties across drug types, resulting in a sentence reduction of about 11 months for those individuals who would benefit.  The Commission will now consider whether to apply those reductions retroactively to the tens of thousands of people serving prison terms under penalties that are widely seen as excessive.  The Department of Justice has urged the Commission to limit the scope of cases in which retroactivity would apply.