Facing overcrowded prisons, US wants to cut drug sentences

US prisons are operating at 40 percent above capacity, with half of all inmates locked up for drug-related crimes. Attorney General Eric Holder has proposed changes to the criminal justice system that would reduce sentences for non-violent crimes.

In an announcement scheduled for delivery on Monday, Holder outlined a plan to free up prisons and keep non-violent drug offenders from ending up in jail cells. Under a major policy shift, federal prosecutors will no longer push for “mandatory minimum” sentences for low-level drug offenders, and will instead send more people to drug treatment and community service programs. Additionally, Holder wants prisons to release elderly, non-violent offenders.

“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason,” Holder said in his speech, which was released in advance of his 1 p.m. ET delivery at the American Bar Association in San Francisco. “While the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.”

In his speech, Holder reflected a view long held by civil rights groups that have advocated for lesser sentences for non-violent crimes, claiming that the long prison terms have prevented low-income and minority communities from advancing. Mirroring that view, Holder said that “a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities” and that “many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.”

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