United States Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates in San Francisco and announced a complete overhaul of the federal drug prosecution process on Monday. In his address, Holder said that there were plans to “take bold steps to reform and strengthen America’s criminal justice system.”
Holder called into question the effectiveness of the current system in place for charging, prosecuting, and sentencing non-violent drug offenders. He said “As the so-called ‘war on drugs’ enters its fifth decade, . . . we need to ask whether it . . . [has] been truly effective.” Holder has called upon both sides of the aisle to come together in a bipartisan effort to rectify the broken criminal justice system that sentences non-violent offenders like they are murderers and rapists.
As it currently stands, America accounts for only five percent of the world’s population, but incarcerates 25 percent of the world’s criminals. In order to offset these extreme statistics, Holder has “mandated a modification to the Justice Department’s charging policies so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders . . . will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences.”
Holder said that by only giving higher, more severe penalties to violent criminals, law enforcement on all government levels can “better promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation.”
The attorney general noted that a number of senators have proposed “promising” legislation that would offer federal judges “more discretion in applying mandatory minimum sentences to certain drug offenders.”
Holder mentioned a second way that the DOJ will soften over-aggressive sentencing on non-violent offenders is that the DOJ has altered how it considers and evaluates compassionate release for inmates “facing extraordinary or compelling circumstances – and who pose no threat to the public.” These circumstances include things like medical conditions and age (if the inmate is non-violent).
Despite the promising new restructuring of the American criminal justice system, Holder points out that it will not come without opposition. And he’s correct to think that. Although this proposed massive overhaul is hope to fixing a damaged system, it’s still a tall order and will surely see the opposition that Holder predicts.
One thing to be mindful of are the private prison contractors who want to keep their houses full, as it maintains their profit margin. And the other thing are the politicians who are in the pockets of the contractors, willing to fight tooth and nail to keep the current system in place. It is up to Holder to spearhead this endeavor with candor and diligence if he ever wants these changes to completely unfold.
Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.