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National drug sentences undergo reform

A new set of national sentencing standards for drug crimes has been released, with many of the new federal provisions resembling an existing New Jersey law. The reforms, designed to prevent low-level drug offenders from crowding the nation's prisons, signals a shift in the strategy for eliminating illegal drugs in the nation.

The reforms come in the wake of shocking new statistics that indicate that American prisons are more crowded than ever before. Federal penitentiaries currently hold about 40 percent more prisoners than they were designed to accommodate. Half of those currently in custody are serving time on drug charges, draining taxpayer money with every day they spend in prison.

Federal prosecutors have been ordered by Attorney General Eric Holder to stop charging low-level drug defendants with offenses that hold minimum prison sentences. Those individuals must not be facing violent crime charges in connection with their drug allegations. Instead of imprisoning those offenders, Holder said he would like to build a transition program that would focus on rehabilitation and community services. These provisions will allow for the release of a variety of non-violent offenders who are over-populating our nation's jails. Also targeted in the reforms were elderly, non-violent defendants serving massive sentences for drug possession.

Civil liberties advocates are heralding the move as a step in the right direction for vulnerable minority populations who are significantly more likely to serve jail time than their Caucasian counterparts. Now, offenders will be sentenced according to the severity and nature of their crimes, rather than receiving a blind mandatory sentence. Judges will also have more discretion in sentencing. This will complement new legislation in New Jersey that funnels financial support toward rehabilitation and treatment efforts instead of jail time for drug offenders.

If you are facing drug charges in New Jersey, consider seeking the assistance of a qualified attorney. Even with these reduced sentencing guidelines, you could be facing time behind bars. Do not face these challenging court proceedings alone; instead, consult an experienced defense attorney to maximize the outcome of your criminal case.

Source:, "Eric Holder introduces U.S. drug-crime reforms that mirror N.J. drug bill" Brent Johnson, Aug. 12, 2013

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