U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify today in favor of changing federal guidelines to reduce the average sentence for drug dealers, The New York Times reports.
Holder will tell the United States Sentencing Commission the Obama Administration supports changing guidelines to reduce the average drug sentence by about one year, from 62 months to 51 months.
The proposed changes would reduce the federal prison population by about 6,550 inmates over the next five years, the article notes. Currently, half of the 215,000 inmates in the federal prison system are serving time for drug crimes.
“This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable,” Mr. Holder said in remarks prepared for Thursday. “It comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”
The Sentencing Commission writes judges’ guidelines. It is soliciting comments on the proposed sentencing reductions. The commission is likely to vote in April on whether to carry them out, according to the newspaper. The changes would go into effect in November, unless Congress voted to reject the guidelines.
In a separate move, Holder is pushing to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. He is joining with libertarian Republicans, including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, in this effort.
In August, Holder announced a Justice Department plan to change how some non-violent drug offenders are prosecuted. Low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who are not tied to large-scale drug organizations or gangs will not face mandatory minimum sentences.
Under the plan, severe penalties will be used only for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. Holder will give federal prosecutors instructions about writing their criminal complaints when they charge low-level drug offenders, in order to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences. Certain laws mandate minimum sentences regardless of the facts of the case.