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Overhaul of U.S. Prison system proposed by attorney general

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has called for drastic restructuring for the national prison system. "We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate - not merely to convict, warehouse and forget," Holder has declared.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Aggressive enforcement of federal criminal laws is necessary," Holder says, but "we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.

"Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it," he said.

Some of the measures proposed by older include scaling back the use of harsh prison sentences for certain drug-related crimes. Holder has also called for the diversion of people convicted of low-level offenses to drug treatment and community service programs. He also wishes to expand programs to allow for release of some elderly, non-violent offenders.

Holder, at a speech at the American Bar Association in San Francisco this week says he is mandating a change to Justice Department policy. The changes will enable low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels will not be charged with offenses that impose mandatory minimum sentences.

Mandatory minimum prison sentences, which are largely the result of the government's war on drugs in the 1980s, limit the power of judges to impose shorter prison terms.

Under the altered policy, Holder says that defendants will instead be charged with offenses for which accompanying sentences "are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins."

Federal prisons in the U.S. are currently operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity and hold more than 219,000 inmates. Almost half of them are serving time for drug-related crimes. Many of the inmates have substance abuse disorders. Nine million to 10 million prisoners go through local jails each year.

Holder says that 17 states have since directed money away from prison construction and toward programs and services such as treatment and supervision, designed to reduce the problem of repeat offenders.

In Kentucky, legislation has reserved prison beds for the most serious offenders and refocused resources on community supervision. The state, Holder said, is projected to reduce its prison population by more than 3,000 over the next 10 years, saving more than $400 million.

Holder also noted the state of Texas for changes of policy regarding non-violent offenders and changes to parole policies. Holder says that these changes have brought about a reduction in the prison population of more than 5,000 inmates last year. He said similar efforts helped Arkansas reduce its prison population by more than 1,400.

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