Photo by the Associated Press
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Attorney General Eric Holder is directing federal
prosecutors to change the way they file charges for some drug crimes,
to reduce the number of convictions for offenses that carry inflexible,
mandatory minimum sentences.
The new policy involves the
prosecution of low-level, non-violent drug offenders who have no ties to
gangs, cartels or other large-scale organizations. They will be charged
with offenses that - like those for most crimes - specify a range of
months or years, allowing judges to decide sentence length.
remarks prepared for delivery Monday to the annual meeting of the
American Bar Association's House of Delegates in San Francisco, Holder
says the goal is to reserve the most severe penalties for serious,
high-level, or violent drug traffickers.
Though noting that the
growth in the U.S. prison population has slowed in recent years, he
says, "Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and
for no good law enforcement reason." Incarceration should be used "to
punish, deter and rehabilitate, not merely to convict, warehouse and
Holder has long argued that mandatory minimums are
contributing to the fact that the number of inmates in federal prisons
has increased by 800 percent since 1980, far faster than the growth of
the U.S. population.
Some Republicans, including Sen. Mike Lee
of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have joined Democrats in calling for
eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.
incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both
ineffective and unsustainable. It imposes a significant economic burden,
totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone," Holder says.
Holder is also
directing federal prosecutors to go after the most serious offenses and
most dangerous criminals, leaving local and state prosecutors to handle
more of the less serious crimes.
Such a move would partially
reverse the trend of recent decades toward more federalization of
criminal prosecutions and would shift dwindling federal resources toward
the highest priorities. But local officials also face budget cuts of
their own and may not welcome such a move.
says, "By targeting the most serious offenses, prosecuting the most
dangerous criminals, directing assistance to crime hot spots, and
pursuing new ways to promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency and
fairness, we can become both smarter and tougher on crime."
his prepared remarks, he also urges prison officials to offer more
frequent compassionate release for older, non-violent offenders with
compelling circumstances. And he recommends more use of prison diversion
programs, such as drug treatment or community service.