Federal judges handed out 78% fewer ultra-long sentences for non-violent drug offenses in 2014 than at the peak eight years ago.
The number of drug defendants sent to prison for 12 years of more fell to 2,414 in 2014, down from 4,303 in 2006. The number excludes life sentences, which have dropped similarly.
During this period, short drug sentences — 1 year or less — rose sharply to 3,438 in 2014, up from 2,025 in 2006.
For the first time on record, sentences of one year or less were more numerous than those of 12 years or more.
Overall, the number of drug offenders sent to federal prison has fallen only slightly under President Obama: to 23, 305 in 2014, down 6.5% since he took office and down 12% from the 2006 peak under President Bush.
The primary reason for the shorter sentence lengths appears to be prosecutorial discretion, i.e., charging in ways that carry less harsh mandatory sentences and guideline recommendations.
Other sentencing reforms likely played a role as well, such as the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which shortened some crack cocaine sentences. The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s “Drugs Minus Two” Amendment takes effect Nov. 1, 2014, which should result in shorter sentences in future years.
The data used here is from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and was analyzed by Clemency Report editor Dennis Cauchon. All years are federal fiscal years, which run from October 1 through September 30. That means 2014 covers sentences given from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014.