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Justice Department Broadens Changes in Federal Drug Sentencing Policy

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Attorney General Eric Holder has announced the Justice Department will broaden a plan to change how some non-violent drug offenders are prosecuted.

Last month, Holder said low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who are not tied to large-scale drug organizations or gangs will not face mandatory minimum sentences. On Thursday, he said the new policy will cover defendants who have not yet been convicted in drug cases that could involve long mandatory prison sentences, the Associated Press reports.

Prosecutors will also have the discretion to apply the policy to defendants who have entered a guilty plea, but have not yet been sentenced.

Certain laws mandate minimum sentences regardless of the facts of the case. Holder said the longest prison terms should be reserved for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers.

“Some federal drug statutes that mandate inflexible sentences — regardless of the individual conduct at issue in a particular case — do not serve public safety when they’re applied indiscriminately,” Holder said at a criminal justice issues forum of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

The federal prison population has grown by about 800 percent since 1980, while the U.S. population as a whole has increased by about one-third during that time. Although 5 percent of the world’s population resides in the United States, the nation’s prisons house almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, according to the Justice Department. More than 219,000 federal inmates are incarcerated. Almost half are serving time for drug-related crimes.

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