Reform may keep non-violent drug offenders out of jail.
By Robin Wilkey
Attorney General Eric Holder is rumored to be proposing major reforms to drug sentencing in the coming weeks, and if a Wednesday interview with NPR is any indication, the changes could signal a pivot from the aggressive policies embraced by the Justice Department.
“I think there are too many people in jail for too long, and for not necessarily good reasons,” Holder said in the interview, turning from the department’s highly criticized crackdown on drug law enforcement. As NPR noted, almost half of the people in federal prison are serving time for drug charges.
“The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old,” he continued. “There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”
Holder hinted in the interview that the changes could include better prioritization of federal law enforcement and shortened sentences for minor drug offenses. According to NPR, Holder could announce his proposal as early as next week in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco.
While Holder and the Obama administration have drawn criticism for publicly embracing a laissez-faire approach to marijuana laws but cracking down anyway, some observers believe this proposal for reform could be genuine.
“The country is in a bipartisan moment [in regards to drug policy] that makes major criminal justice reform possible,” Bill Piper, Director of National Affairs of the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Huffington Post. “You see it with bipartisan bills in Congress and bipartisan calls for sentencing reform. There’s an opportunity that the administration realizes it can take advantage of, and I hope that they do.”
Indeed, bills like the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would lower mandatory minimums in sentencing, and the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would grant judges more leniency in imposing lesser sentences, were both introduced by bipartisan authors.
Piper also hopes the time might be right to address federal recommendations for marijuana law enforcement.
“They’ve been mentioning new recommendations on marijuana for the past year,” said Piper. “They’ve been slow on it for certain, but that is undoubtedly connected to drug policy. This would be a good time to address both.”