...The change in federal sentencing guidelines applies to a limited group of people. It does not provide relief to the roughly 208,000 people held in state prisons for drug convictions, which constitutes the majority of people serving time for such crimes in the United States.
It’s also separate from President Barack Obama’s efforts to grant clemency to certain nonviolent drug offenders, which resulted in the early release of 46 nonviolent drug offenders this summer, bringing the total number of prisoners granted clemency by President Obama to 89.
And finally, those sentenced under federal mandatory minimums are also restricted in the sentence reduction they could receive. “There are very few ways a prisoner can get out from under a mandatory minimum,” said Mary Price of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. For example, a conviction for possessing 500 grams of cocaine triggers a 5-year minimum sentence, but other circumstances, such as possession of a gun, could garner additional prison time under the old sentencing guidelines. Any sentence reduction someone in that situation would be eligible to receive could not dip below 5 years total, since that’s the floor of the mandatory minimum. According to data released by the Sentencing Commission in June 2015, federal judges have denied re-sentencing to over 2,000 prisoners, and 520 of those denials were issued because the person was ineligible due to a mandatory minimum.
Since mandatory minimums are statutory, only Congress can reduce them—and lawmakers are currently considering a bill to do just that.