The nation's top law enforcement official announced changes to the use of compassionate release and mandatory minimum sentencing and announced new sentencing policies for some "low-level, non-violent drug offenders," with an eye toward reducing extensive sentences for non-violent drug crimes.
Under the new directive, prosecutors will charge non-violent drug offenders "who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels" with crimes that don't carry excessive prison sentences, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association's House of Delegates in San Francisco on Monday.
"Some statutes that mandate inflexible sentences – regardless of the individual conduct at issue in a particular case – reduce the discretion available to prosecutors, judges, and juries," Holder said, according to his prepared remarks. "Because they oftentimes generate unfairly long sentences, they breed disrespect for the system. When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety. They – and some of the enforcement priorities we have set – have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color. And, applied inappropriately, they are ultimately counterproductive."
Holder also said he would be expanding compassionate release, including changing rules for non-violent elderly inmates who have served a large chunk of their sentences.
He offered changes to the way prosecutors determine whether or not to pursue cases when there were potential state-level charges as well.
"This means that federal prosecutors cannot – and should not – bring every case or charge every defendant who stands accused of violating federal law," Holder said. "Some issues are best handled at the state or local level."
As part of federal justice reforms, Holder also announced a focus on high-violence areas, grants to the Community Oriented Policing Services program to hire veterans and school resource officers.