Holder Seeks To Avert Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Aug 13, 2013

Attor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to announce Mon­day that low-level, non­vi­o­lent drug offend­ers with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug orga­ni­za­tions will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe manda­tory sen­tences. The new Jus­tice Depart­ment pol­icy is part of a com­pre­hen­sive prison reform pack­age that Holder will reveal in a speech to the Amer­i­can Bar Asso­ci­a­tion in San Fran­cisco, accord­ing to senior depart­ment offi­cials. He is also expected to intro­duce a pol­icy to reduce sen­tences for elderly, non­vi­o­lent inmates and find alter­na­tives to prison for non­vi­o­lent crim­i­nals. Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers have worked for months on the pro­pos­als, which Holder wants to make the cor­ner­stone of the rest of his tenure. “A vicious cycle of poverty, crim­i­nal­ity and incar­cer­a­tion traps too many Amer­i­cans and weak­ens too many com­mu­ni­ties,” Holder plans to say Mon­day, ­accord­ing to excerpts of his ­remarks that were pro­vided to The Wash­ing­ton Post. “How­ever, many aspects of our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem may actu­ally exac­er­bate this prob­lem rather than alle­vi­ate it.” Holder is call­ing for a change in Jus­tice Depart­ment poli­cies to reserve the most severe penal­ties for drug offenses for seri­ous, high-level or vio­lent drug traf­fick­ers. He has directed his 94 U.S. attor­neys across the coun­try to develop spe­cific, locally tai­lored guide­lines for deter­min­ing when fed­eral charges should be filed and when they should not. “Too many Amer­i­cans go to too many pris­ons for far too long and for no good law enforce­ment rea­son,” Holder plans to say. “We can­not sim­ply pros­e­cute or incar­cer­ate our way to becom­ing a safer nation.” The attor­ney gen­eral can make some of these changes to drug pol­icy on his own. He is giv­ing new instruc­tions to fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors on how they should write their crim­i­nal com­plaints when charg­ing low-level drug offend­ers, to avoid trig­ger­ing the manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences. Under cer­tain statutes, inflex­i­ble sen­tences for drug crimes are man­dated regard­less of the facts or con­duct in the case, reduc­ing the dis­cre­tion of pros­e­cu­tors, judges and juries. Some of Holder’s other ini­tia­tives will require leg­isla­tive change. Holder is urg­ing pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion with bipar­ti­san sup­port that is aimed at giv­ing fed­eral judges more dis­cre­tion in apply­ing manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences to cer­tain drug offenses. “Such leg­is­la­tion will ulti­mately save our coun­try bil­lions of dol­lars,” Holder said of leg­is­la­tion sup­ported by Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). “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.” The cost of incar­cer­a­tion in the United States was $80 bil­lion in 2010, accord­ing to the Jus­tice Depart­ment. While the U.S. pop­u­la­tion has increased by about a third since 1980, the fed­eral prison pop­u­la­tion has grown by about 800 per­cent. Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials said fed­eral pris­ons are oper­at­ing at nearly 40 per­cent over capac­ity. Fed­eral offi­cials attribute part of that increase to manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences for drugs, includ­ing mar­i­juana, under leg­is­la­tion passed in the 1980s. Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, for exam­ple, a min­i­mum sen­tence of five years with­out parole was man­dated for pos­ses­sion of five grams of crack cocaine, while the same sen­tence was man­dated for pos­ses­sion of 500 grams of pow­der cocaine, law enforce­ment offi­cials said, point­ing to dis­crep­an­cies that they say have led to higher lev­els of incar­cer­a­tion in poorer com­mu­ni­ties. “Sen­tenc­ing by manda­tory min­i­mums is the antithe­sis of ratio­nal sen­tenc­ing pol­icy,” Amer­i­can Bar Asso­ci­a­tion lawyer James E. Fel­man said in tes­ti­mony three years ago before the U.S. Sen­tencing Com­mis­sion. Although the United States is home to 5 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, almost a quar­ter of the world’s pris­on­ers are incar­cer­ated in Amer­i­can pris­ons, accord­ing to the Jus­tice Depart­ment. More than 219,000 fed­eral inmates are behind bars, and almost half of them are serv­ing time for drug-related crimes. An addi­tional 9 mil­lion to 10 mil­lion peo­ple cycle through local jails in the United States each year. About 40 per­cent of for­mer fed­eral pris­on­ers and more than 60 per­cent of for­mer state pris­on­ers are rear­rested or have their super­vi­sion revoked within three years after their release, often for tech­ni­cal or minor vio­la­tions of the terms of their release. Holder will say he has also revised the department’s prison pol­icy to allow for more com­pas­sion­ate releases of elderly inmates who did not com­mit vio­lent crimes, have served sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of their sen­tences and pose no threat to the pub­lic. Over the next weeks, Holder and his deputies plan to visit cities to pro­mote their prison agenda and point to exam­ples of the type of change the attor­ney gen­eral is advo­cat­ing. New leg­is­la­tion in Ken­tucky, for exam­ple, has reserved prison beds for only the most seri­ous crim­i­nals, focus­ing resources instead on com­mu­nity super­vi­sion and other alter­na­tives. The state is pro­jected to reduce its prison pop­u­la­tion by more than 3,000 over the next 10 years, sav­ing more than $400 mil­lion, accord­ing to Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials. Invest­ments in drug treat­ment for non­vi­o­lent offend­ers and changes to parole poli­cies helped Arkansas reduce its prison pop­u­la­tion by more than 1,400 inmates, U.S. offi­cials said, and led to a reduc­tion in the prison pop­u­la­tion of more than 5,000 inmates last year in Texas. Holder does not plan to announce any changes in the Jus­tice Department’s pol­icy on mar­i­juana, which is ille­gal under fed­eral law. Two states, Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton, legal­ized mar­i­juana in Novem­ber. Sup­port­ers of the mea­sures argued that hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars have been wasted on a failed war against mar­i­juana that has filled Amer­i­can pris­ons will low-level offend­ers. Sup­port­ers also con­tended that decrim­i­nal­iza­tion would bring in hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in tax rev­enue that could be used for edu­ca­tion, health care and other gov­ern­ment ser­vices. But the legal­iza­tion mea­sures directly vio­late the fed­eral Con­trolled Sub­stances Act, which pro­hibits the pro­duc­tion, pos­ses­sion and sale of mar­i­juana and clas­si­fies mar­i­juana as a Sched­ule 1 drug, putting it in the same cat­e­gory as LSD and heroin. The Jus­tice Depart­ment has not said how it will respond to the mea­sures in Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton, leav­ing state and local offi­cials con­fused about exactly how to pro­ceed. A Jus­tice Depart­ment spokesman said the mat­ter is still under review. Source: Wash­ing­ton Post (DC) Author: Sari Hor­witz Pub­lished: August 12, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 Wash­ing­ton Post Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​washpost.​com Web­site: http://​www​.wash​ing​ton​post​.com/

1f9b301ff8rge570.jpg 150x62 Holder Seeks To Avert Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Read more here:
Holder Seeks To Avert Manda­tory Min­i­mum Sentences

Related Posts

Share This

Leave a Comment