Tuesday, August 13, 2013

AG Holder seeks to reduce punishments for non-violent drug offenders

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Given the country's overcrowded jails, given the ridiculousness of putting people in prison for long periods of time simply for non-violently violating the country's insane anti-drug laws, and given the cruel stupidity of mandatory minimum sentences, this is certainly promising:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder unveiled in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco. He also introduced a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.

And his assessment of the problem, while limited, is pretty much on the mark:

"We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken," Holder said. "And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget."

"A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities," Holder said Monday.

Yes, it's broken, badly broken. But why not go further? Why not put an end to the failed "war on drugs" altogether -- and so legalize or decriminalize where possible, while elevating recovery and rehabilitation (especially for those who are no threat to society) above punishment?

This is a start, but some truly progressive reforms are in order. Because, let's face it, the other way, a combination of moralism and vengeance, simply doesn't work.

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