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Holder seeks to avert mandatory minimum sentences for some low-level drug offenders

August 12, 2013

By : washingtonpost – excerpt

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced 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 unveiled in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco. He also introduced 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.

“We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken,” Holder said. “And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget.”…

The attorney general can make some 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. (more)

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