by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – US Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday called for shorter sentences for defendants in most of the nation’s drug crimes. Holder endorsed a proposal that would result in shorter sentences for non-violent drug trafficking offenses, citing the rising cost of operating federal prisons and fairer administration of justice.
The proposal, created by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, is part of a larger move by the Department of Justice to lessen the penalties for non-violent drug offenders. Holder has spoken out against mandatory minimum sentences, arguing for judicial discretion in developing appropriate sentencing guidelines.
“This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable, it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate,” said Holder in a hearing before the Commission.
Holder insisted that removing these mandatory minimums would not prevent application of harsher sentences to violent drug offenders.
This proposal is just the latest step in an on-going move by the Justice Department to reduce the prison populations. In August, Holder instructed prosecutors to stop charging non-violent drug traffickers with offenses that carried these mandatory minimum sentences. The Sentencing Commission took notice, convening in January to consider eliminating mandatory minimums altogether.
Justice Department officials said the proposed amendment would result in a 17 percent decrease in the average length of prison sentences for non-violent offenders. Moreover, it would shrink the federal prison population by 6,550 inmates over the next five years.
Holder’s proposal has been met with criticism from Raymond Morrogh, director-at-large for the National District Attorney’s Association, who considered the proposal to be “[r]ewarding convicted felons with lighter sentences because America can’t balance its budget.”
The seven member Sentencing Commission is expected to vote as soon as April to amend the sentencing guidelines. The mandatory minimums will remain in effect, however, until such time that the Commission votes on the proposed amendment.
For more information, please see:
BBC News – Eric Holder to push for shorter US drug sentences – 13 March 2014
CNN – Holder: I back a plan to reduce some drug-related sentences – 13 March 2014
Fox News – Holder backs reduced sentences for some drug traffickers – 13 March 2014
The New York Times – Holder Endorses Proposal to Reduce Drug Sentences – 13 March 2014
The Washington Post – Holder calls for reduced sentences for low-level drug offenders – 13 March 2014