For a long time many people in Minneapolis-St. Paul who were arrested and charged with federal drug crimes feared the lengthy, draconian prison sentences that accompanied those charges. The country’s war on drugs has been severe, sending people who were never violent and had very little criminal background away for decades in prison. There has been some pushback over lengthy mandatory prison sentences, however, and now Attorney General Eric Holder, on behalf of the Obama Administration, is announcing a new plan to combat these punishments.
The plan is multi-faceted and some parts will need congressional approval, but there are certain things that can be done through the Justice Department alone.
One such change is to require federal prosecutors to charge nonviolent and low-level drug offenders in ways that will avoid the mandatory sentences. If prosecutors leave out how much of a drug is recovered on the official charging document, mandatory minimum prison sentences will not come into play.
Another step that Holder and President Obama would like to take, however, requires legislators’ approval. There may be some challenge in getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on allowing federal judges a certain degree of flexibility in sentencing, but that flexibility would go far to mitigate the number of nonviolent offenders being sentenced to long prison sentences.
Not only are politicians labeling this as a step away from unfair and destructive policies, but also as an opportunity to save the country billions of dollars on incarceration. As it is, the United States federal prison system is operating almost 40 percent above capacity.
Source: Reuters, “Holder to outline new drug offender sentencing proposal,” Gabriel Debenedetti, Aug. 12, 2013