- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - The U.S. District Attorney for South Dakota says a federal ruling that will make tens of thousands of inmates serving time eligible for early release could allow hundreds of drug offenders in South Dakota to get out early.

Brendan Johnson estimated that between 300 and 400 inmates could see early release as soon as 2015, although the exact number of South Dakota drug offenders that could be affected by Friday’s vote is unclear, according to the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1zTpbWQ ).

“It’s going to be a pretty significant,” Johnson said.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously Friday to make sentencing guideline changes approved earlier this year retroactive to apply to many inmates who are currently in prison.

The commission said more than 46,000 inmates could benefit, with an average sentence reduction of 25 months. The change would cover defendants sentenced for all drug types, including cocaine and methamphetamine.

Advocates of the early-release plan say it would cut prison costs - almost one-half of the federal prison population is locked up for drug crimes - and scale back some of the harsh sentences imposed during the country’s war on drugs. Prisoner advocacy groups immediately trumpeted the change, calling it a matter of fundamental fairness.

The inmates in South Dakota serving mandatory sentences would not have their terms reduced below the minimum, but those sentenced above or below the mandatory term would be able to apply for a reduction.

Johnson said he expects to work with judges and the federal public defender’s office to identify the cases and to find a way to apply the changes across a large number of cases.

Probation officers will need to be prepared to handle an increased caseload, as well, Johnson said.

No inmates would be eligible for release as a result of a reduced sentence until November 2015.


Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com



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