Pubdate: Sat, 31 Aug 2013
Source: Progress-Index, The (VA)
Copyright: The Progress-Index 2013
Note: Editorial from Rocky Mount (N.C.) Telegram


U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's call last week for a revision of 
mandatory federal sentencing laws is a welcome but overdue proposal. 
Holder specifically took aim at low-level, nonviolent drug offenders 
who have filled the nation's prisons during the so-called "War on 
Drugs" of the past 30 years.

Mandatory minimum sentencing and so-called "three strikes" laws were 
enacted throughout the 1980s and 1990s as politicians sought to "get 
tough" on crime and more aggressively combat the failing "War of 
Drugs." These laws removed any discretion in sentencing from judges 
based on the actual conditions of specific cases and imposed 
arbitrary prison time for general classifications of different types of crimes.

The result was a swelling of the U.S. prison population - mostly with 
inmates convicted of drug-related crimes. Holder said the prison 
population has grown by almost 800 percent since 1980, with more than 
219,000 federal inmates in facilities that are operating at nearly 40 
percent above capacity.

Holder said he has instructed federal prosecutors to stop charging 
many nonviolent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory 
minimum sentences. He said he plans to work with Congress to give 
judges greater discretion in sentencing.

It's way past time for the United States to bring some common sense 
to the criminal justice system and return flexibility to judges when 
they hand down sentences. The increasing cost of maintaining the 
country's prisons continues to divert needed resources from law 
enforcement agencies, prosecutors and drug prevention and 
intervention programs.

Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders promote 
injustice and do nothing to protect public safety. Holder is correct 
in his call to abandon them.
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