Drug Sentencing Changes Necessary

Post Date: March 16, 2014

(Philadelphia Tribune Editorial) — It is both unwise and unnecessary to continue to fill the nation’s bloated federal prisons with low-level nonviolent drug offenders serving long sentences.

Attorney General Eric Holder is right to endorse a proposal that would result in shorter prison sentences for many nonviolent drug offenders, saying the change would rein in bloated federal prison costs and create a fairer criminal justice system.

Holder made his proposals on Thursday in an appearance before the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where he announced his support for a commission proposal to lower the guideline penalties for certain drug crimes.

The attorney general’s proposals is part of a welcomed and long overdue broader effort by the Justice Department to overhaul punishment for some nonviolent drug dealers, including changes to long mandatory sentencing.

Holder is right to urge greater discretion for judges in sentencing.

The attorney general correctly points out that there has been an overreliance on incarceration.

The overreliance on incarceration not only come with great human and moral costs it is financial unsustainable. The harshest penalties, Holder said, should be reserved for “dangerous and violent drug offenders.”

A national association of prosecutors is opposing the proposal, arguing that the majority of federal prisoners have a long history of criminal behavior and the proposed changes would reward them with lighter sentences.

Supporter of sentencing guidelines changes are not seeking to reward drug dealers but are seeking smarter sentencing guidelines as a solution to the growing problem of bloated prisons. Those seeking change also question the fairness of long prison sentences for certain low-level drug offenses.

Violent and chronic drug offenders should not be allowed to benefit from the proposed changes by the Justice Department

Holder’s proposal is not to allow federal prisoners to get away scot-free. The Justice Department proposal in effect would reduce by 11 months the average sentence of a drug offender.

Currently too many prosecutors are charging many nonviolent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences.

There is a better way.

Many of these nonviolent drug defendants convicted of low-level offenses can be diverted to drug treatment and community service programs. It also makes sense as Holder suggests to expand a prison program to allow the release of some elderly, nonviolent drug offenders. Read the editorial