Nation & World

Justice Department backs reduced penalties for low-level drug offenses

Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday urged the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce the recommended prison time for certain low-level drug offenses.

Citing prison overcrowding, and the fact that nearly half of the nation’s 216,000 federal prisoners are incarcerated on drug charges, Holder said sentencing reform is desperately needed.

Modestly reducing the quantity-based guideline for drug offenses, while continuing to ensure higher penalties for drug offenders involved violence, or who are career criminals, or who use weapons in their offenses is consistent the Attorney General's Smart on Crime initiative and will help further our current need for efficient and strategic criminal justice reforms,” the Justice Department’s written testimony stated.

The department’s 31-page prepared statement, though spanning a wide array of sentencing topics, placed particular weight on the drug sentencing question. The proposed reform would affect those convicted of possessing 500 grams or more of powdered cocaine or 28 grams or more of crack cocaine.

It has become clear that we must find ways to control federal prison spending order to better focus limited resources on combating the most serious threats to public safety,” the department’s statement declared.

The seven-member sentencing commission was also scheduled to hear from other supporters of reform, such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums, as well as a representative of the National District Attorneys Association, who argues against reducing sentences.

Despite the myth being promulgated by the U.S. Department of Justice that ‘America’s federal prison system is bloated with first-time, low level drug offenders’, the vast majority of prisoners in the Federal prison system have been very bad actors for a long time,” Raymond F. Morrogh, director at large of the district attorneys association, stated.