Friday, August 16, 2013

U.S. Justice Department vs. Mass Incarceration


On August 12, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced federal policy changes that will have profound effects on mass incarceration of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders when implemented. The Justice Department will eliminate federal minimum sentences on certain types of crimes and apply other remedies to combat America's high rate of imprisonment. See the speech at the embedded video below and online at . He said it is "time to apply bold steps to reform and strengthen America's criminal justice system in concrete and fundamental ways . . . It is past time to address the system's needs and unwanted disparities by considering a fundamentally new approach."

Attorney General Holder received resounding applause when he said, "Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason." Indeed, the United States incarcerates 2.5 million people, making America the world leader in incarceration of its citizens. Many activists and civil and human rights organizations have long advocated for prison reform to reduce mass incarceration. Numerous states have already applied changes in prosecution regarding low-level drug offenders (marijuana) and applied more drug and mental health courts. ACLU published a guide to assist in interpretation of the Attorney General's speech. ACLU stated:

Many of the reforms that ACLU long championed made it into the Attorney General’s speech, including:
  • Developing guidelines to file fewer cases
  • Directing a group of U.S. Attorneys to examine sentencing disparities and develop recommendations to address them
  • Directing every U.S. Attorney to designate a Prevention and Reentry Coordinator
  • Directing every DOJ component to consider whether regulations have collateral consequences that impair reentry
  • Reducing mandatory minimum charging for low-level drug offenses
  • Expanding eligibility for compassionate release; and
  • Identifying and sharing best practices for diversion programs
  • Calling into question zero tolerance policies and other policies that lead to the school to prison pipeline
  • Challenging the legal community to make the promise of Gideon (right to counsel) more of a reality
The Attorney General has assured us that this is just the beginning, and he is taking on the bipartisan spirit that has produced state level reforms and has fueled the reduction in state prison populations. These changes are long overdue because the federal prison population continues to grow and is 40% overcapacity. What’s worse, as a soon to be released ACLU report will show, a stunning 2,074 federal inmates are serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes.

Attorney General Holder acknowledged that people of color face harsher punishment than their peers and that this is unworthy of our great country. 

Continue to read ACLU's interpretation of Attorney General's speech at this link


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