On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced major changes in federal drug sentencing practices.
Holder has proposed that federal prosecutors stop charging low-level, non-violent drug users with offenses that carry severe mandatory sentences.
During his San Francisco speech, Holder said black males receive sentences 20 percent longer than whites who are convicted of the same crime. He asserted that his proposed changes would stop the justice system from unfairly targeting minorities and the poor.
Holder said, “This isn’t just unacceptable, it is shameful.”
Although Holder is a sometimes-controversial figure, his proposed drug sentencing policies have generally received positive feedback from both sides of the political aisle. Republicans who support the changes point out that millions would be saved in prison costs each year.
As reported by The Washington Post:
“In Congress, both Republican and Democratic leaders have introduced legislation aimed at giving federal judges more discretion in applying mandatory minimums to certain drug offenders.
Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, said the ACLU is “thrilled” by Holder’s actions.
‘These policies will make it more likely that wasteful and harmful federal prison overcrowding will end,’ Murphy said.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he was heartened by the Obama administration’s willingness to review mandatory minimum sentencing. But Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), said the law should be changed only in conjunction with Congress.”
Holder pointed out that similar steps have worked on the state level.
In Kentucky, over $400 million is projected to be saved in the next ten years by focusing resources on support groups and community supervision. In Kentucky, jail cells are only reseved for very serious offenders.
And in Texas, drug treatment programs for lower-level, non-violent drug users has lowered the prison population by 5,000 in just one year.
Holder wants to use these states as a model for the nation. During his speech, he pointed out that America’s prison population has increased 800 percent since 1980. The statistic is shocking and highlights a real problem in our justice system. Holder said, “With an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate, not merely to warehouse and forget.”
Although the proposed changes have generally been viewed positively, it is unclear at this time exactly how they will be implemented on such a large scale.
What are your thoughts on Holder’s assertions? Do you think using alternatives to jail cells for non-violent drug users is a good idea? Let us know in the comments section below.