Right now the U.S. prisons are greatly overpopulated. Part of this reason is due to the fact that many nonviolent drug offenders, with no extensive criminal histories are sentenced to serve long prison terms.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal prisons are almost 40 percent above capacity. Almost half of those serving time in these federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes. Many of these people do not have significant criminal histories, nor were the drug crimes violent in nature. However, they still end up serving extensive time behind bars with actual hardened criminals.
In a moral, financial and societal move, Holder said the Obama administration is taking steps to try and fix how nonviolent drug offenders are treated in the criminal justice system. This will largely be done by bypassing those mandatory minimum prison terms when prosecuting nonviolent drug offenders.
According to Holder, the Justice Department is going be directing prosecutors on how to charge those accused of drug crimes. How they are charged will directly impact how they are sentenced, if convicted.
For example, leaving out the amount of drugs involved in charging documents is one way to ensure someone does not end up locked up behind bars for years and years. Leaving this information out was one proposal made by Holder at the recent speech unveiling the ideas.
Another proposal stated by Holder is to give federal judges the power to move away from mandatory minimum prison sentences. Of course though, this proposal would require congressional approval, which could prove challenging at a time when Congress is so divided.
Overall though, the goal remains the same: to bypass mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
Source: Reuters, “U.S. moves to curb long, mandatory drug sentences,” Dan Levine and David Ingram, Aug. 12, 2013