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Is a major overhaul of the federal sentencing guidelines looming?

During the 1980s and 1990s, there was a sustained push among lawmakers on Capitol Hill to crack down on drug-related crimes, particularly the proliferation of crack cocaine.

The result of this sustained push was the introduction of a mandatory minimum sentencing program that saw people guilty of otherwise nonviolent, low-level drug offenses given punishments that were disproportionate to their crimes.

According to experts, this draconian sentencing scheme has caused the U.S. prison population to explode, costing taxpayers millions of dollars every year, and exacting a significant and inequitable toll on minority communities.

In recognition of this otherwise untenable reality, a bipartisan group of prominent U.S. senators, including Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Charles Grassley (R-IA), recently came together to draft legislation that they say will introduce meaningful and long overdue change to the federal justice system.

What exactly does this legislation call for concerning mandatory minimums?

The legislation calls for the federal sentencing guidelines to be amended such that the mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders -- typically those involved in drug-related crimes -- would drop from 10 years to five years in qualified cases, 20 years to 15 years in other qualified cases, and life to 25 years in qualified three-strike cases.

Could this be applied retroactively?

Yes, these changes to the federal sentencing guidelines could be applied retroactively, meaning roughly 6,500 inmates could file petitions for new sentences.

Does the legislation call for anything else?

Some of the other notable provisions in the legislation would 1) ban solitary confinement for juveniles in most cases, 2) allow juveniles to request sentence reductions after 20 years, 3) provide federal judges with more discretion in sentencing, 4) create more programs to prepare prisoners for release and 5) introduce new mandatory minimum sentences for terrorism-related crimes and interstate domestic violence.

What are the bill's chances of eventually becoming law?

According to reports, the possibility of the bill passing this year remains altogether uncertain given how little time is left in the current session and the recent shakeup in the House leadership.

Stay tuned for updates …

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you have been charged with any sort of criminal offense as your rights and your very freedom may be at stake.

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