Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to alter criminal justice drug policy on Monday as part of a major reform package intended to reduce the ever-increasing federal prison population.
In a watershed speech Monday at the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder is expected to curb severe drug-related minimum mandatory sentences, a controversial law that has contributed to a startling statistic: theUnited States, with five percent of the world’s population, houses 25 percent its prisoners.
“Certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences,” Holder will say, according to advance excerpts from his speech.
That means federal prosecutors can exclude in their indictments the quantities of illegal substances confiscated, which is how minimum mandatory sentences are decided. The law won’t be changed and the quantity will still help determine a sentence. But the move will allow judges and lawyers to sidestep the strict federal laws.
“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Holder is expected to say. “We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.”
“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Holder’s speech adds. “It imposes a significant economic burden — otaling $80 billion in 2010 alone, and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”
There is also a legislative plan that supports Holder’s initiative. If passed — and for that it will need bipartisan support — the bill could give federal judges more leeway on mandatory minimum sentences.
“Such legislation will ultimately save our country billions of dollars,” Holder’s speech says. “Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable.”
Since the 1980s, when many tough-on-drugs bills were made law, the federal prision population has grown some 800 percent. Now, according to Justice Department officials, federal prisons are about 40 percent over capacity.