Holder to expand clemency criteria

A flood of new applications for clemency will flow to the White House when the Justice Department expands its criteria for applications, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday. 

At the request of the White House, the department later this week will outline expanded criteria to consider when recommending applications for reduced jail sentences to the White House, which will likely result in "thousands of additional applications,” Holder said. 

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"This new and improved approach will make the criteria for clemency recommendation more expansive," Holder said. "This will allow the Department of Justice and the president to consider requests from a larger field of eligible individuals."

The White House has pushed to consider more clemency applications for people — many of whom are drug offenders — who do not pose a threat to safety, Holder said. The administration has also pushed Congress to address the issue with legislation. 

In the meantime, the Justice Department will also assign "potentially dozens" of lawyers to review the new applications in preparation for the larger volume. 

President Obama has commuted the sentence of 10 individuals in the last few months for previous drug sentences the administration calls unfair and harsh. 

Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 that reduced the divide between punishment for crack cocaine and powder cocaine charges. Most of the individuals whose sentences were commuted would have benefited from the law’s passage. 

“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime — and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime," Holder said. “This is simply not right.”

The move is part of a push to see shorter sentences for lower-level, non-violent drug offenders. Last year, Holder had called on U.S. attorneys around the country to seek shorter sentences for those crimes. 

Deputy Attorney General James Cole will outline more details about the expansion later this week.  

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