Attorney General Eric Holder will announce today a Justice Department plan to change how some non-violent drug offenders are prosecuted, according to The Washington Post. Low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who are not tied to large-scale drug organizations or gangs will not face mandatory minimum sentences.
The changes are part of a package of comprehensive prison reforms Holder will announce in a speech to the American Bar Association.
Under the plan, severe penalties will be used only for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. Holder will give federal prosecutors instructions about writing their criminal complaints when they charge low-level drug offenders, in order to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences. Certain laws mandate minimum sentences regardless of the facts of the case.
Some changes proposed in the plan will require legislative changes, such as giving federal judges more leeway in applying mandatory minimum sentences to certain drug offenses.
According to excerpts of Holder’s remarks provided to the newspaper, he will state that “a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem rather than alleviate it.”
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.