Obama to Make Changes to Federal Drug Prosecutions

Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech to the American Bar Association on Monday and announced some new initiatives from the DOJ that will hopefully reduce mass incarceration and deescalate, at least a little bit, the expensive and failed war on drugs.

In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration moved on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses…

Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder justified his policy push in both moral and economic terms.

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech said. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

Mr. Holder also introduced a related set of Justice Department policies that would leave more crimes to state courts to handle, increase the use of drug-treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration, and expand a program of “compassionate release” for “elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and have served significant portions of their sentences.”

Hey, some action is better than none at all. But the overwhelming majority of the problem here is at the state and local level, not the federal level.

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  • daved

    I’ll be more impressed when Holder tells the DEA to stop raiding medical marijuana dispensaries.

  • AsqJames

    A couple of knowledgeable legal bloggers (Ken at popehat & Scott H. Greenfield here) seem to think this move in itself might not have much effect on incarceration rates. Greenfield optimistically sees it as a minimal move to test the water for de-emphasising the “tough on crime” rhetoric and thinks the lack of criticism it has generated may be a good sign for future, more substantial moves.

  • daved

    Well, with ALEC having endorsed reduced penalties for some drug offenses also, it might have some traction.

    Of course, those Teabagger morons in the House will refuse to do anything about it unless they can also get rid of Obamacare.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … a program of “compassionate release” for “elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and have served significant portions of their sentences.”

    IOW, dumping a bunch of old hippies on the street before their medical expenses add to the incarceration budget – let the homeless shelters have ’em!