U.S. News: Holder Proposes Major Changes to the U.S. Criminal Justice System

The Attorney General introduces his Smart On Crime initiative.

Eric Holder

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On August 12, 2013, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for major changes in the country’s criminal justice system. One of the major changes would be a lesser sentence for lower level drug-related crimes. During his speech at the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder said he preferred enrolling those people convicted of lower level crimes to drug treatment centers or community service programs. He also said that he wanted to allow for the release of elderly, non-violent offenders from prisons. Furthermore, he proposed expanding a policy that considered the release of inmates who faced extraordinary circumstances and those who posed no threat to the public. “We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate not merely to convict, warehouse and forget,” Holder said during the speech.

Bipartisan Support

Another big change was the altering of a Justice Department policy so that cases involving non-violent drug offenders with no gang or cartel ties would be at the discretion of judges to impose shorter prison sentences instead of the mandatory minimum prison sentences under the current policy. Holder said this change in policy would be “better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins.”

Holder’s proposals received bipartisan support from Congress. Republican Senator Rand Paul as well as Democrats, such as Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Dick Durbin, all praised and supported Holder’s remarks soon after his speech.

Smart On Crime

Holder’s proposed changes might have a huge impact on prisons. Every year in federal court there are approximately 25,000 drug convictions and 45% of those are for the lower-level type offenses that Holder spoke of, offenses such as delivering drugs or street level dealing. According to the Sentencing Project, a non-profit criminal justice system reform group, Hispanics and African-Americans will most likely benefit most from the new initiative. Hispanics make up 40% of yearly federal drug convictions. African-Americans make up 30%, according to the Sentencing Project.

In his speech, Holder referred to his proposed changes as the “Smart On Crime” initiative. He said they were based on a Justice Department review he conducted in early 2013. “By targeting the most serious offenses, prosecuting the most dangerous criminals, directing assistance to crime `hot spots,’ and pursuing new ways to promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency and fairness, we can become both smarter and tougher on crime,” Holder said.

by Jennie Wood


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