Holder to scale back tough sentences for low-level drug crimes

Attorney General Eric Holder is set to announce Monday that the Justice Department will no longer press mandatory minimum sentences against many low-level drug crime offenders, according to reports.

“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason,” Holder will tell an American Bar Association meeting in San Francisco, according to prepared remarks. 

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“While the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” he will say.

Calling laws that require minimum prison time “draconian,” Holder will order federal prosecutors to avoid charging nonviolent drug offenders without ties to gangs or drug cartels under those crimes.

Instead they will push community service or rehabilitation instead of prison and Holder will also seek to expand a program that helps release elderly, non-violent inmates from incarceration to ease prison overcrowding.

Prosecutors will seek sentences for drug defendants “better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins,” Holder will say.

Reports said Holder and his top aides will travel across the country in the weeks ahead to point to successful efforts to reform sentencing laws and redirect nonviolent offenders from prison.

Advocates of the changes say they will help address prison overcrowding in the U.S. and allow federal prosecutors to better target high-level drug criminals. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) released legislation earlier this year that would help scale back mandatory minimum laws by giving federal judges more authority to choose lesser sentences.

In his speech, Holder will push for lawmakers to pass that legislation, arguing that it could “save our country billions of dollars.”

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Holder will say.