WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for major changes to the nation’s criminal justice system that would scale back the use of harsh prison sentences for certain drug-related crimes, divert people convicted of low-level offenses to drug treatment and community service programs, and expand a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, nonviolent offenders.
In remarks prepared for delivery today to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder said he is mandating a change to Justice Department policy so that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels won’t be charged with offenses that impose mandatory minimum sentences.
Mandatory minimum sentences – a product of the war on drugs in the 1980s – limit the discretion of judges.
The attorney general said defendants will instead be charged with offenses for which sentences “are better suited to their individual conduct.”
Federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity and hold more than 219,000 inmates, with almost half of them serving time for drug-related crimes and many of them with substance use disorders. In addition, 9 to 10 million prisoners go through local jails each year.