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Washington - Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. today will urge reduced sentences for defendants in most U.S. drug cases, part of his effort to cut the burgeoning prison population and reserve stiff penalties for the most violent traffickers.
Holder's proposal, which is expected to be approved by the independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal judges, would affect 70 percent of drug offenders in the criminal justice system, according to Justice Department officials. It would reduce sentences by an average of nearly a year.
"Certain types of cases result in too many Americans going to prison for far too long, and at times for no truly good public safety reason," Holder plans to tell the U.S. Sentencing Commission, according to excerpts of his testimony provided to The Washington Post. "Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world's population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world's prisoners."
The move is likely to be hailed by civil liberties groups and assailed by some lawmakers who think the administration is chipping away at federal policies designed to deter criminals and improve public safety.
The Sentencing Commission, a seven-member panel, will vote on it as soon as April. Until then, federal judges must refer to current sentencing guidelines. Holder, however, will instruct his prosecutors in a memo today not to press judges to impose the longer sentences in the current guidelines if attorneys for drug offenders seek shorter sentences for their clients that would be permissible under the new policy.
- The Washington Post