Too Many Americans Go to Prison – Eric Holder

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“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long”

American Attorney General Eric Holder

WASHINGTON  – International – American Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce a number of far-reaching reforms, including orders to federal prosecutors to avoid federal mandatory sentences for drug crimes, early release for nonviolent elderly prisoners and other reforms that would shift responsibility for prosecuting many crimes to the states today at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association today. The move will be a major step toward reducing federal inmate populatitions and activists hope it is the first in many reforms to the criminal justice system.

Speech to American Bar Association

In a speech Monday afternoon, Holder is expected to tell the American Bar Association “We must never stop being tough on crime. But we must also be smarter on crime”. “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law-enforcement reason. Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable.”

“For years, our elected leaders tried to outdo one another in looking ‘tough on crime’ by proposing more and more severe – and unreasonable – mandatory sentences for drug crimes,” said 34-year policing veteran Major Neill Franklin (Ret.). “These sentences were based on political considerations rather than sound policymaking, and for decades we have been paying the price for that, with drug dealers often serving longer sentences than murderers and other violent criminals. This is a good step in the right direction to reduce overcrowding prisons, but does little to reduce the harms of the war on drugs generally. I hope it is merely the first step toward a more sensible drug policy that treats consensual drug activity as a matter of public health rather than a matter for law enforcement.”

Tom Angell from the Marijuana Majority states, “The attorney general’s remarks represent a good first step toward scaling back the failed ‘war on drugs.’ These proposals will allow some people charged with drug offenses to have opportunities to put their lives back together sooner and will save taxpayers some money that is now being wasted putting human beings in cages for no good reason whatsoever. However, the criminal justice system should not just have less of a role in the effort to address the medical problem of drug abuse, it should have no role. 

“The real value of these proposals will be in the implementation, which drug policy reform advocates have good reason to be wary about. For example, despite a 2009 Justice Department memo urging U.S. attorneys not to go after marijuana businesses that are legal under state law, more state-legal medical marijuana providers were shuttered by federal actions during the first term of the Obama administration than were closed during George W. Bush’s two terms. And, we’re still waiting for the administration to announce its response to the marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington, a policy that the attorney general has been saying is coming ‘relatively soon’ since December. If the administration is serious about using law enforcement resources in a smarter way, it should be a no-brainer to strongly direct federal prosecutors to respect the majority of voters by allowing these groundbreaking state laws to be implemented without interference.

“Clearly, drug policy reformers have a lot of work ahead of us to make sure that the administration’s deeds match its words, but today’s remarks by the attorney general give us a lot to work with.” 
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