Drug sentencing reform trend underway in many states

Many states, including Georgia, have seen drastic budget cuts across a number of programs in recent years, as services have been curtailed and resources stretched taut owing to economic malaise and ongoing fiscal stain.

Fiscal reality has certainly visited the criminal justice system across its entirety, and a trend has emerged in a number of states that focuses upon lessening the financial burdens associated with mass incarceration, especially for low-degree and non-violent drug offenders.

Increasingly, authorities and groups across a wide spectrum are questioning what has been called a “rote resort to incarceration” for crimes such as possession with intent to distribute only a small amount of drugs and for possession of marijuana. In efforts to bring about logical reform and increased savings, legislatures in many states are enacting laws that expand the use of prison-alternative outcomes for many persons facing drug possession charges.

For example, probation is deemed more appropriate than incarceration for many first- and second-time drug offenders. An attractive cost-benefit outcome can often be realized when money is spent upfront on pre-trial risk assessments that identify low-risk offenders, many who are best — and most cheaply — served by involvement in community drug treatment programs.

Some states are expanding programs that allow for early release to low-level drug offenders who obtain “good time credits” for completing drug treatment, job and related rehabilitation programs. Others are opening up eligibility for drug court programs. Still others are more liberally allowing for expungement of certain drug charges from criminal records, which helps more ex-prisoners find work and thrive in their communities.

A number of possible sentencing outcomes exist in Georgia, too, for drug offenders, and a criminal defense attorney with proven experience representing persons charged with federal or state drug crimes can help a client facing charges secure an outcome that best promotes his or her legal interests.

Source: AlterNet, “7 states moving toward drug sentencing reform,” Phillip Smith, July 20, 2012