Holder hails drop in prison population

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The nation’s federal prison population fell by roughly 4,800 inmates this year, the first decrease in more than three decades, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday. 

In a speech at New York University, the nation’s top law enforcement officer hailed the drop as a result of the Obama administration’s push against disparities in the criminal justice system and a focus on treatment over jail time for many offenders. 

{mosads}“This is nothing less than historic,” said Holder, who described a “sea change” in incarceration rates resulting from changes in federal prosecutorial policies. 

Taking those changes into account, new projections from the Federal Bureau of Prisons show an exponential decrease in the coming years. The drop in fiscal 2014 is expected to be followed in 2015 by a 2,000-inmate decrease, Holder said. 

The year after that, the inmate population will drop by an additional 10,000 — or the equivalent of six federal prisons filled to capacity, he said. 

“We must never, and we will never, stop being vigilant against crime and the conditions and choices that breed it,” Holder said.

“But, for far too long — under well-intentioned policies designed to be ‘tough’ on criminals — our system has perpetuated a destructive cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration that has trapped countless people and weakened entire communities.”

The Justice Department launched a “Smart on Crime” initiative last year targeting racial and social disparities in the justice system and emphasizing diversion programs over incarceration. Under Holder, the Justice Department has also changed its sentencing policies to keep people accused of low-level federal drug crimes from facing mandatory minimum sentences that the administration views as unduly harsh.

Holder said the shift away from an “over-reliance on incarceration” is already paying off in the form of lowered crime rates. He touted figures showing that both overall crime and overall incarceration have dipped by roughly 10 percent since President Obama took office in 2009. 

“This is a signal achievement,” Holder said. “We know that over-incarceration crushes opportunity. We know it prevents people, and entire communities, from getting on the right track.  And we’ve seen that — as more and more government leaders have gradually come to recognize — at a fundamental level, it challenges our commitment to the cause of justice.”

Tags Eric Holder Federal Bureau of Prisons United States Department of Justice

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