The American Federation of Government Employees union supports of the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s unanimous vote on Friday to allow federal prisoners serving time for low-level drug offenses to apply for early release, according to a press release issued shortly after the decision was announced.
Overcrowding in federal prisons has become a significant problem in recent decades. The union notes that federal prison incarceration levels have risen 50 percent since 2000, and nearly 900 percent since 1980, much of it relating to drug sentences. The federal prison system is overcrowded by an average of 43 percent, with some prisons being much higher, and this increases dangers for both correctional officers working in the prisons and inmates.
While the union applauds the decision, they say that it is not the end of the story and more needs to be done to ensure safety for workers and inmates.
“This is a good first step in helping to reduce the explosive growth in our prison population and will provide some much-needed relief to our correctional officers and prison staff,” Union Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young said. “You cannot solve the overcrowding issue until you address the sentencing issue. Our officers should not have to fear for their lives every day they show up for work. We need swift action to end the overcrowding issue and restore sanity to our penal system.”
The union supports the Smarter Sentencing Act introduced by Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, and Idaho Republican House Member Raul Labrador.
AFL-CIO delegates approved a resolution at last September’s national convention calling for reform of the mass incarceration industry in the United States.
The decision would allow some 50,000 low-level drug offenders, who have served an average of nine years already, to apply for early release, potentially reducing their sentences by up to two years.
“Our federal prisons are overcrowded and understaffed—a dangerous combination that puts our correctional officers in jeopardy every day they go to work,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “Reducing the lengthy sentences given to those convicted of non-violent drug offenses will lessen overcrowding significantly, improving safety not only for prison employees but for the inmates as well.”
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.