U.S. Attorney General seeks sentencing reform for drug crimes

Times are tight, which means that both businesses and the federal government are looking for ways to cut costs. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder proposed a measure that could save billions of taxpayer dollars per year. More importantly, however, the move would provide some much needed criminal justice reform around the issue of drug crimes.

The United States incarcerates more of its own citizens than any other country in the world. Attorney General Holder recently noted that “although the United States comprises just five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.” There are currently about 216,000 inmates in federal prison, and nearly half are there because of drug offenses. How much money could we save if we found alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders and decided to shorten unreasonably long sentences for drug crimes?

Many convicted drug offenders face long prison sentences dictated by mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Mandatory minimums were introduced in the final decades of the twentieth century as a way to crack down on drug use and ultimately deter drug crimes.

But mandatory minimums suffer from at least one problem: They don’t work. Drug use and related crime has not declined in any significant way, but the prison population continues to swell.

Holder recently spoke before the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where he discussed these issues. He asked the commission to change sentencing policies for federal judges, and proposed reforms that could reduce sentences by nearly a year on average. Attorney General Holder is also in favor of seeking lighter sentences and even alternatives to incarceration for low-level and non-violent drug offenders. Harsh penalties would be reserved for violent and dangerous offenders and those who run large-scale drug trafficking organizations.

Criminal justice reform measures like these are long overdue. Hopefully, the fact that these proposals are coming from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office will give them even more weight and credibility.

Source: The Washington Post, “Holder calls for reduced sentences for low-level drug offenders,” Sari Horwitz, March 13, 2014

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