Attorney General Eric Holder is supporting bipartisan legislation to ease prison time for low-level drug offenders who got mandatory terms, another move in keeping with the administration's “Smart on Crime” initiative announced last summer, McClatchy Newspapers report. With prisons almost bursting at the cell doors from overcrowding and incarceration costs draining state and federal budgets, the lock 'em all up approach has lost steam. Momentum behind a rollback of mandatory prison sentences seems to be growing.
A relaxation of drug laws also addresses complaints that the criminal justice system discriminates against blacks and other minorities. The federal prison population has mushroomed by 500 percent, to 219,000, over the last 30 years, mainly because of the number and length of mandatory sentences, especially drug sentences. Now Holder is backing the Smarter Sentencing Act sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT). It would direct courts to waive mandatory minimum sentences for certain drugs if the defendant has no more than a minor criminal history, authorize a federal court to relax mandatory sentences for crack cocaine possession or trafficking before Aug. 3, 2010, (when mandatory sentence laws were eased) as if the 2010 law were in effect when the inmate was sentenced, and to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for manufacturing, distributing, possessing or importing specified drugs.