Aug. 12 - Attorney General Eric Holder says the U.S. Justice Department plans to change how it prosecutes some non-violent drug offenders. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT: NO REPORTER NARRATION STORY: The U.S. Justice Department plans to change how it prosecutes some non-violent drug offenders, ending a policy of mandatory minimum prison sentences, in an overhaul of federal prison policy, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday. In a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, he said, "Our system is in too many ways broken." He said, "I have mandated a modification of the Justice Department's charging policies so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels, will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences." The United States imprisons a higher percentage of its population than other large countries, mostly because of anti-drug laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s. The laws were politically popular at the time when U.S. crime rates were soaring, and politicians from Republican President Ronald Reagan to Democratic President Bill Clinton championed big spending increases to attack criminal gangs and drug traffickers. President Barack Obama's administration is betting that support has eroded because of the financial and social costs of keeping people in prison. "Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason," Holder said. Justice Department staff have been studying changes since the beginning of the year, about the time that Holder agreed to stay on as the chief U.S. law enforcement official into Obama's second, four-year term. The potentially far-reaching overhaul is also expected to include the creation of local guidelines to determine if cases should be subject to federal charges, and an updated plan for release of some federal prison inmates. Some changes Holder supports - such as giving federal judges the leeway to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses - would require changes in the law.