Holder looks to make changes to the punishments of convicted drug offenders

Aug 12, 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Changes In Prosecution Of Low Level Drug Offenders

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during the 2013 America Bar Association (ABA) annual meeting on August 12, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Holder is seeking changes in the minimum penalties of certain low-level drug related crimes.; Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Nearly half of the 219,000 inmates in federal prisons are there on drug-related convictions, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is hoping to put a dent in that number. Today at the meeting of the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder is pitching the idea that low-level, non-violent drug offenders shouldn’t receive minimum mandatory sentences, which typically keep people in prison for a disproportionate length of time in relation to the crimes they’ve committed.

“We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate, not merely to convict, warehouse and forget,” is a line from his prepared speech that was shared with the media ahead of his appearance at the meeting.

Holder would rather divert non-violent offenders to drug treatment and community service programs. Holder sees the problem as a societal one, with some people cycling through the criminal justice system.

Is Holder right? Do we need to find more humane solutions to the ills that keep people returning to prison? Or is his proposal too soft on lawbreakers who will be encouraged to commit further crimes? How would you solve the problem of a prison system that’s running 40 percent over capacity?

Josh Gerstein, White House Reporter for POLITICO

Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project and primary author of the marijuana report

John Malcolm, Director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation

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