Drug reform policy experts and prisoners’ rights groups are expressing cautious hope about Attorney General Eric Holder’s Monday announcement that he will cut mandatory minimum sentencing for drug cases, declaring that while the steps don’t go far enough, they do reflect important gains.
Addressing the American Bar Association’s Annual Meeting, Holder announced Monday he will use his power as attorney general to mandate that prosecutors stop enforcing mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug cases and provide more flexibility for judges, allowing them to avoid mandatory minimums in some cases.
Drug law experts say that this is a positive but limited step forward. “The concern is that even though the Attorney General will be issuing these directions to revise charging practices, success will depend on prosecutors on the local level exercising that discretion,” Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Common Dreams. “That remains to be seen.”
Holder also vocalized his support for two prison reform bills currently in Congress, also aimed at rolling back draconian sentencing and hastening the release of some people who are incarcerated under nonviolent charges.
“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” he declared. “We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.”
“It’s too little too late, but it’s still incredibly significant,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told Common Dreams. “There was no mention of clemency or pardons for all those who are currently incarcerated. It would have been good for him to include specific comments about allowing Washington and Colorado to proceed with their efforts to legally regulate marijuana.”
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