SAN FRANCISCO — Federal prosecutors will no longer seek long, “mandatory minimum” sentences for many low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, under a major shift in policy aimed at turning around decades of explosive growth in the federal prison population, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced today. The nation’s top law enforcement official called for a “fundamentally new approach” to enforcing drug laws in order to help alleviate prison overcrowding and reduce race-based disparities in drug prosecutions.
“It’s clear – as we come together today – that too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason. It’s clear, at a basic level, that 20th-century criminal justice solutions are not adequate to overcome our 21st-century challenges,” Holder told the annual meeting of the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates in San Francisco. “And it is well past time to implement common sense changes that will foster safer communities from coast to coast.”
The new policy involves the prosecution of low-level, non-violent drug offenders who have no ties to gangs, cartels or other large-scale organizations. They will be charged with offenses that — like those for most crimes — specify a range of months or years, allowing judges to decide sentence length. Holder has long argued that mandatory minimums are contributing to the fact that the number of inmates in federal prisons has increased by 800 percent since 1980, far faster than the growth of the U.S. population.