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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Sentencing Commission unanimously approved a plan Friday that could make more than 46,000 federal drug offenders eligible for sentence reductions.

The commission's action follows a vote in April to amend sentencing guidelines in some drug cases involving non-violent inmates. Friday's vote extends possible two-year reductions to thousands of inmates convicted of drug crimes as part of an effort to reduce the overcrowded federal prison system.

Related: Reduced sentences urged for non-violent drug offenders

Unless Congress rejects the measure, the cases would become eligible for judicial review Nov. 1. No prisoners would be released until November 2015.

"The amendment received unanimous support from commissioners because it is a measured approach," said Judge Patti Saris, the panel's chairperson. "It reduces prison costs and populations ... while safeguarding public safety."

Attorney General Eric Holder, who had expressed support for the plan, described the action as "a milestone in the effort to make more efficient use of our law enforcement resources and to ease the burden of our overcrowded prison system."

There are about 215,000 inmates in the federal prison system, which is supported by more than 25% of the Justice Department's budget.

"The department looks forward to implementing this plan to reduce sentences for certain incarcerated individuals," Holder said. "In the interest of fairness, it makes sense to apply changes to the sentencing guidelines retroactively. ... At my direction, the Bureau of Prisons will begin notifying federal inmates of the opportunity to apply for a reduction in sentence immediately."

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