Prison CellNew sentencing guidelines could pave the road for thousands of inmates to be released from federal prisons throughout the United States. The new guidelines would allow some federal inmates convicted of non-violent drug crimes during the “War on Drugs” to take off approximately two years from their sentences. The amendment was approved on Friday, July 18, 2014 by a federal judiciary and it could affect over 46,000 convicted drug offenders. Now, it will be up to Congress to pass the measure into law.

The panel of judges that ruled on the new sentencing guidelines is called the U.S. Sentencing Commission. It is an independent agency working within the federal judiciary, which determines just and suitable punishments for crimes. In April, the panel overhauled sentencing guidelines for drug crimes and reduced the sentences of individuals who were more recently convicted of drug possession and/or drug sales crimes. Now, the same rules could be applied to people who were already in prison.

Measure Resolves Prison Overcrowding and Unfair Punishments

According to the chairperson of the commission, the new sentencing guideline amendments were unanimously supported by Commissioners on the panel. Support for the measure came, not only because it reflects previous guiltiness and statutory changes, but also because it will save the public on prison costs. Considering that federal prisons are currently 32 percent above capacity, and that state prisons are also overcrowded with nonviolent drug inmates, the early release of these individuals could serve to dramatically reduce costs, alleviate the burden of overcrowding, and allow non-violent criminals to be released so they can start contributing positively to society.

Some Inmates May Already Be Eligible for Early Release

This measure could be of enormous benefit to families whose loved ones are currently serving unusually long -- and often unfair -- prison terms dating back to the stiff drug penalties associated with the "War on Drugs" of the 1980s. It may also be interesting to note that, even without this measure being passed, there could be numerous inmates in the federal prison system now, who may already be candidates for release under current laws and guidelines. If they have not already done so, family members of inmates may wish to consult with a criminal defense attorney to find out what options may be available to assist their relatives in petitioning for an early release from prison.