APP - Eric Holder and mandatory minimums


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Washington (CNN) -- The Justice Department will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday, noting the nation is "coldly efficient in jailing criminals," but that it "cannot prosecute or incarcerate" its way to becoming safer.

"Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason," Holder told the American Bar Association's House of Delegates in San Francisco.

He questioned some assumptions about the criminal justice system's approach to the "war on drugs," saying that excessive incarceration has been an "ineffective and unsustainable" part of it.

Although he said the United States should not abandon being tough on crime, Holder embraced steps to address "shameful" racial disparities in sentencing, the budgetary strains of overpopulated prisons and policies for incarceration that punish and rehabilitate, "not merely to warehouse and forget."

Holder invoked President Barack Obama, saying the two had been talking about the issues and agreed to try to "strike a balance" that clears the way for a "pragmatic" and "commonsense" solutions to enhance public safety and the "public good."

The centerpiece of Holder's plan is to scale back prosecution for certain drug offenders -- those with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels. He said they would no longer be charged with offenses that "impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences."

They now "will be charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins."

The changes are effective immediately.

Lessening the use of mandatory minimums -- sentences that require a "one-size-fits-all" punishment for those convicted of federal and state crimes -- could mark the end of the tough-on-crime era that began with strict anti-drug laws in the 1970s and accelerated with mandatory minimum prison sentences and so-called three-strikes laws.
And from the book "Orange is the new black" (page 299)

The United States has the biggest prison population in the world - we incarcerate 25% of the world's prisoners, though we are only 5% of the world's population. This reliance on prisons is recent: in 1980 we had about 500,000 Americans in prison; now we have more than 2.3 million people locked up. A huge part of that growth is represented by... low-level offenders who have made serious mistakes but pose little threat of violence. ....It sometimes seems that we have built revolving doors between our poorest communities and correctional facilities, and created perverse financial incentives to keep those prisons full, at taxpayers' expense. America has invested heavily in prisons, while the public institutions that actually prevent crime and strengthen communities - schools, hospitals, libraries, museums, community centers - go without