In the history of America’s arguably ineffective war on drugs, laws and public policy have essentially moved in only one direction. Drug crimes have been punished with increasing severity and the United States responds accordingly by spending more and more money on prisons.
But over the last few years, small but significant changes have snowballed into what seems to be a change of course. In its second term, the Obama administration has been working to reform the way that the justice system prosecutes drug crimes, particularly when it comes to sentencing. The Obama administration’s mouthpiece on the issue of drug crime sentencing reform has been Attorney General Eric Holder.
Holder recently went before the U.S. Sentencing Commission to demonstrate the administration’s support for changes currently being recommended. The commission is responsible for writing the sentencing guidelines judges are required to consider.
Some of the proposed reforms include:
- Reducing the average prison sentence by about one year for those convicted of dealing drugs
- Working with Congress to pass laws that eliminate or reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences in cases of non-violent drug crimes
- Encouraging convicted offenders to seek clemency if they are currently serving lengthy sentences related to crack cocaine and were sentenced under laws that have since been reformed
None of these proposed reforms are “free pass” or in any way encourage drug sales and drug use. Rather, they are meant to reflect the fact that drug sentencing guidelines are often disproportionately harsh and that they need to be reined in for the benefit of all Americans.
Attorney General Holder explained the issue succinctly when he said, “This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable. It [also] comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”
Source: The New York Times, “Holder Endorses Proposal to Reduce Drug Sentences in Latest Sign of Shift,” Matt Apuzzo, March 13, 2014