This is great news, the kind of thing I always wanted to see from a Democratic administration. Eric Holder will make the announcement today:
SAN FRANCISCO — Federal prosecutors will no longer seek long, "mandatory minimum" sentences for many low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, under a major shift in policy aimed at turning around decades of explosive growth in the federal prison population, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. planned to announce Monday.
"Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason," Holder planned to tell the American Bar Assn. meeting here, according to an advance text of his remarks. "While the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation."
Under the new policy, prosecutors would send fewer drug offenders to federal prison for long terms and send more of them to drug treatment and community service. A Justice Department spokesman said officials had no estimate of how many future prosecutions would be affected.
The change responds to a major goal of civil rights groups, which say long prison sentences have disproportionately hurt low-income and minority communities.
In his speech, Holder endorses that point of view, saying that "a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities" and that "many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it."
He also notes that prominent conservatives have embraced the idea of cutting sentences and reducing prison populations.
Conservative groups with leaders including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have called for changing U.S. crime and prison policies, Justice Department officials note. Support from conservatives has come in part because of the enormous bite that prison costs take out of state budgets.
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