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Shorter sentences for convicted criminals spurs controversy

By: Ruben Veloz
EL PASO, Texas -- A controversial move to allow federal prosecutors to shorten prison sentences for minor drug offenders is  closer to becoming reality.

The move is aimed at reducing the country's surging prison population.

The U.S sentencing commission is made up of seven people.

The commission voted unanimously Thursday to cut prison sentences for lower level drug offenders; however some critics fear doing so could cause the crime rate to go up.

The decision could mean 70 percent of all federal drug offenders may have shorter prison sentences by the end of 2014.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recommended the commission to lower sentences for minor drug offenders.

"In a sense it is alright but I feel like people should learn their lesson, said West El Paso resident Gustavo Dominguez, They are there for a reason."

Unless Congress blocks the change, the cuts will go into effect in November.

Prison sentences for lower-level drug offenders will be cut by an average of 11 months.

Currently, most drug offenders serve an average prison sentence of 5-6 years.

The Obama administration supports the move, and believes it would cut spending and the prison population by around 6,500 inmates over the next five years.

"If they are going to free those minor offenders so that they could have more space for other people in prison, I just feel whatever form of punishment has to actually be enforced, said Dominguez, either community service or special classes."

Currently, there are about 216,000 inmates serving prison time in prison for drug related crimes.

Critics say reducing the sentences would have no effect on offenders.

"They might do it next time if they get caught so they are going back to their business you know, doing their bad things, it's just going to keep on happening, said west El Pasoan Gustavo Sandoval.

A study by the sentencing commission showed shorter prison sentences had no effect in determining whether or not a person would return to prison for the second time.

Some El Pasoans believe other forms of punishment like community service would be better served.  

"It has to be implemented it has to make sure they follow through with it. If you tell me go do community service and I don't do it, then what was the sentencing for?" said Dominguez.