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Holder lays out sentencing reforms for non-violent drug offenses

Over the last several decades, law enforcement officials across the country have pushed very hard to incarcerate those who are convicted on drug charges. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently pointed out that half of the country's federal prison inmates are serving sentences for drug offenses. This startling fact has caused Holder and others to push for sentencing reforms.

Not long ago, the attorney general put the federal Justice Department's stamp of approval on a recommendation from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. According to this plan, those who are convicted for non-violent drug trafficking crimes would face lighter sentences.

In announcing his support for this plan, Holder cited a range of reasons. First, and foremost, he noted that changing mandatory sentences for drug crimes would create a fairer criminal justice system. Not only that, but changing sentencing would ease burdens on the cash-strapped prison system.

Reports indicate that the average drug trafficking sentence would be reduced by about 11 months if the suggested reforms are put into practice. Over the course of five years, prison populations would shrink by more than 6,600 people.

Officials from the Justice Department believe that if the sentencing recommendations are adopted, about 70 percent of drug trafficking cases will be affected. Keeping that in mind, law enforcement officials might continue to take the same approach for accused individuals who are perceived as violent.

Despite the fact that the nation's top law enforcement official has signed off on sentencing reforms, the important thing to note is that changes have not yet gone into effect. Holder has said prosecutors shouldn't oppose sentences that align with the recommendations, but there is no official requirement. Not only that, but this policy would only apply to federal cases. Drug distribution charges brought by state law enforcement likely wouldn't be treated any differently, no matter what happens on a federal level.

Source: The Associated Press, "Holder endorses proposed drug sentencing changes," Eric Tucker, March 13, 2014

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