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TerryAnn
08-12-2013, 10:48 AM
'Mandatory minimum' sentences to end for many drug offenders

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. plans to announce a federal policy shift to reduce penalties for low-level, nonviolent offenders and to ease prison overcrowding.

By David G. Savage
August 11, 2013, 9:44 p.m.


SAN FRANCISCO Federal prosecutors will no longer seek long, "mandatory minimum" sentences for many low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, under a major shift in policy aimed at turning around decades of explosive growth in the federal prison population, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. (http://www.prisonfamilyonline.com/topic/politics/government/eric-holder-PEPLT000001873.topic) planned to announce Monday.

"Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason," Holder planned to tell the American Bar Assn. meeting here, according to an advance text of his remarks. "While the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation."

Under the new policy, prosecutors would send fewer drug offenders to federal prison for long terms and send more of them to drug treatment and community service. A Justice Department (http://www.prisonfamilyonline.com/topic/crime-law-justice/u.s.-department-of-justice-ORGOV0000160.topic) spokesman said officials had no estimate of how many future prosecutions would be affected.

The change responds to a major goal of civil rights groups, which say long prison sentences have disproportionately hurt low-income and minority communities.

In his speech, Holder endorses that point of view, saying that "a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities" and that "many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it."

He also notes that prominent conservatives have embraced the idea of cutting sentences and reducing prison populations.

Conservative groups with leaders including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have called for changing U.S. crime and prison policies, Justice Department officials note. Support from conservatives has come in part because of the enormous bite that prison costs take out of state budgets.

Beginning with the "war on drugs" of the 1980s, many states and the federal government adopted laws that required judges to impose long sentences on anyone caught with certain amounts of illegal drugs, regardless of the circumstances.

More recently, as crime rates have dropped sharply in most major urban areas, public demand for lengthy prison terms has waned, and both liberal and conservative states have changed their laws to incarcerate fewer people.

Advocates of change point to Texas and New York as leaders in the effort to reduce sentences, particularly for lower-level drug crimes. Although California has modified its strict "three strikes" sentencing laws, the state has made fewer changes than many others. The state's prisons currently are under court order (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-ff-prisons-court-20130803%2C0%2C6352466.story) to reduce the number of inmates by nearly 10,000 this year to cope with overcrowding.

Congress has moved more slowly than state legislatures. But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats have both called for pulling back on the use of mandatory minimum prison terms.

In his speech, Holder plans to cite proposals by Sens. Richard J. Durbin (http://www.prisonfamilyonline.com/topic/politics/government/dick-durbin-PEPLT007474.topic) (D-Ill.) and Patrick J. Leahy (http://www.prisonfamilyonline.com/topic/politics/government/patrick-leahy-PEPLT003828.topic) (D-Vt.), two of the Senate's leading liberals, and Sens. Mike Lee (http://www.prisonfamilyonline.com/topic/politics/government/mike-lee-PEPLT007882.topic) (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (http://www.prisonfamilyonline.com/topic/politics/government/rand-paul-PEPLT007915.topic) (R-Ky.), two tea party (http://www.prisonfamilyonline.com/topic/politics/tea-party-movement-ORCIG000068.topic) favorites, that would give judges more leeway in sentencing drug offenders.

"By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation, while making our expenditures smarter and more productive," Holder says in his speech.

How big a role mass incarceration has played in cutting crime rates remains a hotly debated topic among criminal justice experts. But there's no disagreement that mandatory minimum sentences helped cause explosive growth in prison populations. At the federal level, nearly half of the 219,000 inmates are serving time for drug-related crimes.

"While the entire U.S. [prison] population has increased by about a third since 1980, the federal population has grown at an astonishing rate by almost 800%," Holder's speech says. "It's still growing, despite the fact that federal prisons are operating at nearly 40% above capacity. Even though this country comprises just 5% of the world's population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world's prisoners."

Under the new federal policy, which stems from a review Holder ordered this year, U.S. attorneys will no longer bring charges that include lengthy mandatory minimum prison terms in cases of "low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels," Holder planned to announce.

Those low-level offenders instead "will be charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct."

Meting out long sentences to low-level criminals "breeds disrespect for the system" and does not serve public safety, the speech says.

In addition, according to the remarks, the federal Bureau of Prisons will revise its guidelines to allow the early release of more inmates who are elderly or who seek "compassionate release" for medical reasons.

The department is also looking into new ways to identify drug offenders who can be sent to drug treatment or required to do community service as an alternative to prison.

"Clearly, these strategies can work," Holder's speech says, citing recent efforts in Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Hawaii. "They've attracted overwhelming, bipartisan support in 'red states' as well as 'blue states.' And it's past time for others to take notice."

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-holder-crime-20130812,0,464603.story

Mrs. M.
08-12-2013, 11:43 AM
I think people need to stop talking about it and we need to see the change. I'm impatiently waiting.

Zoie
08-12-2013, 03:20 PM
Here's his announcement:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/12/politics/holder-mandatory-minimums/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

Unfortunately, it does nothing for those already serving those "draconian sentences."

Mrs. M.
08-12-2013, 04:48 PM
I read this many times and was still confused because I was waiting to hear something about a bill. I just got sent something from FAMM that totally cleared it up, I think lol. So what I read was that this is in effect but only because the president is in agreement. Meaning once there is a new president if this has no become a law then it can be thrown out.

Zoie
08-12-2013, 05:33 PM
The elderly compassionate release program can be expanded by the BOP though it may have to go through Congress.

The part about the DOJ not prosecuting certain offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimums does not - and can change if there is a new President or Attorney General. I also heard Holder in a speech just a few days ago say that he was going to leave those decisions up to the DOJ attorneys in the states - so not sure what he plans. He gets to do his major speech though with lots of attention. Then we'll see what really happens. I am not very trusting.

Leah
08-15-2013, 10:20 AM
The elderly compassionate release program can be expanded by the BOP though it may have to go through Congress.

The part about the DOJ not prosecuting certain offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimums does not - and can change if there is a new President or Attorney General. I also heard Holder in a speech just a few days ago say that he was going to leave those decisions up to the DOJ attorneys in the states - so not sure what he plans. He gets to do his major speech though with lots of attention. Then we'll see what really happens. I am not very trusting.

I'm not trusting either and as I've said before the lack of compassionate releases irks me really bad.

Zoie
08-17-2013, 01:15 AM
New BOP Program Statement on Compassionate Releases was just issued. I'll try to figure out how to post it here. It actually outlines medical and non-medical releases and the criteria. It allows the inmate to initiate the request to the Warden and then it goes from there. Covers both old law and new law inmates. Includes requesting release if a spouse dies who is the sole caretaker of minor children, as well as if a spouse becomes disabled and needs the inmate to take care of him/her. Also covers elderly inmates with debilitating and non-cureable medical conditions, such as Altzheimers.

Leah
08-17-2013, 01:42 AM
I really, really hope the BoP does let infirm inmates out. Dying in prison just isn't right.