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Room for prison reform?

Attorney General Eric Holder’s call for easing mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses signals a shift to more treatment, less prison

By Lee Catterall

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 01, 2013

~~<p>Since the 1980s, when Congress passed mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, federal prison populations have swelled. Of some 219,000 current federal prisoners, nearly half involved drug-related crimes, offenses that ran the gamut of severity but received little judicial leeway in sentencing. Such rigidity in punishment contrasts starkly against the range of case-by-case circumstances &mdash; but such is the law of the land.</p>
<p>That's why when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month announced a policy change aimed at keeping low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no gang or drug- cartel ties out of federal prisons, it signaled a sea change from a decades-long &quot;war on drugs&quot; mentality. It's a mentality that's been increasingly criticized as Draconian, racially discriminatory and cost-ineffective.</p>
~~

Since the 1980s, when Congress passed mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, federal prison populations have swelled. Of some 219,000 current federal prisoners, nearly half involved drug-related crimes, offenses that ran the gamut of severity but received little judicial leeway in sentencing. Such rigidity in punishment contrasts starkly against the range of case-by-case circumstances — but such is the law of the land.

That's why when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month announced a policy change aimed at keeping low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no gang or drug- cartel ties out of federal prisons, it signaled a sea change from a decades-long "war on drugs" mentality. It's a mentality that's been increasingly criticized as Draconian, racially discriminatory and cost-ineffective. Login for more...



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