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New policies could swell federal prison population

New York residents may be aware of efforts in recent years to ease overcrowding in federal prisons. This was done in part by limiting the use of mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that had the potential to put nonviolent offenders behind bars for many years. However, in a two-page memo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has now directed federal prosecutors to seek the most serious charges against defendants.

According to the Justice Department, low-level offenders would not be the target of this new directive unless their crimes involved links to gangs, guns or other aggravated offenses. Instead, 10-year mandatory minimum sentences would be sought against those found to be in possession of a kilogram of heroin, five kilograms of cocaine or 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of sentenced inmates in federal prisons dropped 5 percent from 2009 to 2015.

Officials from the DOJ have said that the new priorities could result in a higher prison population. There are currently 190,000 people inside of federal prisons, and the prison population has generally been considered a financial strain on the government. The plan has been criticized by former Attorney General Eric Holder who called it ideologically driven. It has also been panned by the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Those who are facing federal crime charges may spend time in prison, pay a fine or face other penalties. Therefore, it may be a good idea to consult with an attorney who may be able to create a defense to such charges. For instance, it may be possible to argue that an individual didn't know that he or she was in possession of an illegal substance or had no intent to traffic or distribute it.

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