Eric Holder unveiled a plan on Monday which is aimed to fix what the Obama administration considers the longstanding unjust treatment of many nonviolent drug addicts and to apply to them tough prison terms while reducing the country’s huge prison population and saving billions of dollars.
“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” Attorney General told reporters in San Francisco.
The top U.S. law enforcement official suggested that the Justice Department would direct federal prosecutors to charge defendants in drug cases in which low levels of drugs are involved.
“We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate – not merely to convict, warehouse and forget,” Holder said in his speech.
The official went on, adding that the mandatory minimum sentences applied under the criminal justice system in the majority of drugs cases is a sign of unjustice – thus, condemning offenders to long prison terms even for nonviolent crimes and possession of small amounts of drugs, reports Reuters.
“This is why I have today mandated a modification of the Justice Department’s charging policies so that 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 said.
The U.S. top law enforcement official also spoke of a moral imperative – as well as financial and social reasons – to apply drug sentencing reforms that will enlarge the number of convicts.
“As the so-called war on drugs enters its fifth decade, we need to ask whether it, and the approaches that comprise it, have been truly effective,” Holder said at a conference of the American Bar Association lawyers group.
Democrats seemed to be satisfied with the proposed plan, agreeing that mandatory minimum sentences have become an unfair measure. Some Republicans said the U.S. top official went too far with his proposal.
“If Attorney General Holder wants to reform our criminal justice system, he should work with Congress to do so,” U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, said in a statement.
In a development that Holder called “very promising,” Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee, frontmen of Tea Party movement, have joined leading Democrats urging to pass legislation to enable federal judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses.
“Such legislation will ultimately save our country billions of dollars, and the president and I look forward to working with members of both parties to refine and advance these proposals,” Holder said.
“By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation, while making our expenditures smarter and more productive,” the official added.
According to reports, the Justice Department has been studying changes for about six months, about the time Holder agreed to stay in his job into Obama’s second, four-year term.