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Nonviolent drug convictions might see lighter sentences

A travesty has been occurring in the criminal justice system. Some non-violent drug convictions have been subjected to minimum sentences that put them behind bars for much longer than many people felt was fair. A bipartisan bill in the Senate could rectify the unfair mandatory minimum sentences for people who meet certain criteria.

If it passes, the bill would allow for non-violent inmates who are considered at a low risk for committing repeat offenses to have their prison sentences reduced by 10 days for every 30 days of participation in a rehabilitation program. Inmates who are eligible for the program would have to go through an assessment to determine the likelihood of a repeated offense. New programs to help inmates reenter society would also be created with this bill.

The bill would allow judges to use discretion when sentencing people on drug convictions. It is hoped that the effects of this bill would help to keep rising prison costs under control, increase the fairness of the sentencing system and reduce recidivism.

It is unclear if the legislation will be able to pass the House or whether the White House will sign the legislation. President Obama called for changes to the criminal justice system so that the system could differentiate between violent criminals and young people who were just doing "stupid things."

With more than 200,000 people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, a figure that is up from less than 25,000 in 1980, it is clear that something has to be done. If this bill is signed into law, people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, including some who have already been sentenced, could be affected. As it stands now, mandatory minimum sentences still apply, so all defendants who are facing drug charges should build a suitable defense.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Senators reach deal to reduce prison time for some nonviolent drug offenders," Oct. 01, 2015

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