Holder to Ax 'Draconian' Drug Sentences

For low-level offenders not associated with gangs or drug rings

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 12, 2013 6:48 AM CDT | Updated Aug 12, 2013 7:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – Eric Holder is set to today to reveal what the Washington Post is calling the planned "cornerstone of the rest of his tenure": a revamp of federal prison policy. And one part of the overhaul—a big change to sentencing for low-level drug offenders—is getting a great deal of attention this morning. As Reuters reports, the attorney general is set to announce that those arrested for low-level, nonviolent drug crimes who aren't linked to gangs or drug rings will no longer face mandatory "draconian mandatory minimum sentences." An excerpt of his planned remarks:

  • "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... We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation."
Holder will outline his proposals, which have been months in the making, in a speech in San Francisco, where he's also expected to discuss a new policy that would shorten sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates. As the New York Times explains, he can enact some of his planned drug-sentencing changes himself, by advising federal prosecutors to omit quantity from their indictments in these cases, so as to avoid "triggering" a mandatory minimum. (For instance, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 mandates five years without parole for those possessing 5 grams of crack; by leaving out "5 grams," no automatic minimum would kick in.) But he'll also need Congress to approve legislation that would give judges sentencing leeway. Click for more on what Holder's planned changes will and won't accomplish.

Attorney General Eric Holder, left, attends a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 31, 2013, in observance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Attorney General Eric Holder, left, attends a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 31, 2013, in observance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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