News / USA

US to Reform Mandatory Drug Sentencing

U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder speaks to the American Bar Association Annual meeting in San Francisco, Aug. 12, 2013.
U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder speaks to the American Bar Association Annual meeting in San Francisco, Aug. 12, 2013.
— U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced a major shift in how the federal government plans to prosecute nonviolent criminals involved in drug crimes, with the aim of easing overcrowding in the nation’s prisons.  

Holder outlined several policy changes in a speech to the American Bar Association meeting in San Francisco.

The attorney general said too many Americans go to prison for far too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason.  His main focus was low-level drug crimes that can often bring minimum mandatory sentences of five or 10 years in prison.

Holder says the federal government will now follow the lead of several states that emphasize drug treatment and community service programs as alternatives for non-violent drug offenders who are not associated with criminal gangs or drug cartels.

"Widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable," he said. "It imposes a significant economic burden totalling $80 billion in 2010 alone and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate."

U.S. prison population, total and federalU.S. prison population, total and federal
x
U.S. prison population, total and federal
U.S. prison population, total and federal
Mandatory prison terms were a key part of the war on drugs first launched in the 1980s.  But Holder says the federal prison system is now operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity and that the federal prison population has grown by almost 800 percent since 1980.  More than half of all inmates are incarcerated for drug-related crimes.

Holder has also directed federal prosecutors around the country to develop recommendations on how to address the racial disparities in criminal sentencing.  He noted a recent report that found African-American offenders receive prison sentences 20 percent longer that those imposed on whites for similar crimes.

Holder also said he will expand the federal policy for considering the compassionate release of inmates who are elderly or ill, who did not commit violent crimes and who have served a significant portion of their jail sentence.

“This is our chance to bring America’s criminal justice system in line with our most sacred values.  This is our promise to forge a more just society," he said.

Prison reform advocates welcomed Holder’s policy changes, including Molly Gill with the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

“I think people, when they commit a crime and go before a judge they expect to be treated like an individual.  They expect to be heard," she said. "And when there is a mandatory minimum [sentence], no matter what you say, you are going to get that sentence and a lot of people feel that is really fundamentally unfair."

But supporters of mandatory prison sentences and the war on drugs were critical of Holder’s changes.

“The bad news is that I am afraid this could be interpreted as a statement that the federal government is losing its nerve in the war on drugs," said William Otis, a former federal prosecutor and an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. "We’ve been more successful in that war than many people perhaps including the attorney general have given us credit for."

Holder says the steps he hopes to enact should help reduce the federal prison population in the United States, which now stands at more than 219,000 inmates.  Holder noted that although the U.S. has just five percent of the world’s population, it accounts for almost a quarter of the world’s prison inmate population.

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid