Attorney General Eric Holder is backing a proposal to shorten sentences for nonviolent drug dealers in an effort reduce federal spending on prisons.
Holder appeared before the United States Sentencing Commission on Thursday to announce his support of the panel's recommendations to trim federal guidelines for sentencing of drug traffickers to 51 months from 62 months.
"This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable, it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate," Holder said, adding that the harshest penalties should be reserved for "dangerous and violent drug traffickers."
The Washington Post says "Holder's proposal, which is expected to be approved by the independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal judges, would affect 70 percent of drug offenders in the criminal justice system, according to figures provided by Justice Department officials. It would reduce sentences by an average of nearly a year."
And The New York Times reports: "With the support of several Republicans in Congress, the attorney general is separately pushing for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. In January, the Justice Department issued a call encouraging low-level criminals serving lengthy sentences on crack cocaine charges to apply for clemency."
The Associated Press writes:
"Holder directed prosecutors in August to stop charging many nonviolent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences. He has also said he also wants to divert people convicted of low-level offenses to drug treatment and community service programs and to expand a prison program to allow the release of some elderly, non-violent offenders.
"Holder last year asked the commission to consider reductions in the sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug crimes. The commission responded with a proposal in January that would tie many drug offenses to shorter sentencing ranges.
"The effect, the Justice Department says, would be to reduce by 11 months the average sentence of a drug trafficking offender and would trim the federal prison population by roughly 6,550 inmates over the next five years.
"The commission was not expected to vote on the proposed change until at least April, but Holder planned to instruct prosecutors in the meantime not to oppose sentencing recommendations in line with the newly proposed ranges."