Justice Dept Seeks To Curtail Stiff Drug Sentences
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Justice Dept Seeks To Curtail Stiff Drug Sentences
Posted by CN Staff on August 12, 2013 at 06:18:37 PT
By Charlie Savage
Source: New York Times
Washington, D.C. -- In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration will move on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, is expected to announce the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks.
Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder is planning to justify his policy push in both moral and economic terms. “Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech says. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.” Mr. Holder will also introduce a related set of Justice Department policies that would leave more crimes to state courts to handle, increase the use of drug-treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration, and expand a program of “compassionate release” for “elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and have served significant portions of their sentences.” The policy changes appear to be part of Mr. Holder’s effort, before he eventually steps down, to bolster his image and legacy. Turmoil over the Congressional investigation into the botched Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking case ensnared him in the Obama administration’s first term, and more recently, controversy has flared over the department’s aggressive tactics in leak investigations. In recent weeks, he has also tightened rules on obtaining reporters’ data in leak cases and started an effort to strengthen protections for minority voters after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The move continued an assertive approach to voting rights and other civil rights enforcement throughout his tenure. Mr. Holder’s speech on Monday deplores the moral impact of the United States’ high incarceration rate: although it has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners, he notes. But he also attempts to pre-empt political controversy by painting his effort as following the lead of prison reform efforts in primarily conservative-led Southern states. Under a policy memorandum being sent to all United States attorney offices on Monday, according to an administration official, prosecutors will be told that they may not write the specific quantity of drugs when drafting indictments for drug defendants who meet the following four criteria: their conduct did not involve violence, the use of a weapon or sales to minors; they are not leaders of a criminal organization; they have no significant ties to large-scale gangs or cartels; and they have no significant criminal history. For example, in the case of a defendant accused of conspiring to sell five kilograms of cocaine — an amount that would set off a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence — the prosecutor would write that “the defendant conspired to distribute cocaine” without saying how much. The quantity would still factor in when prosecutors and judges consult sentencing guidelines, but depending on the circumstances, the result could be a sentence of less than the 10 years called for by the mandatory minimum law, the official said. It is not clear whether current cases that have not yet been adjudicated would be recharged because of the new policy. Amid a rise in crime rates a generation ago, state and federal lawmakers began passing a series of “tough on crime” laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession. But as crime rates have plummeted to 40-year lows and reduced the political potency of the fear of crime, fiscal pressures from the exploding cost of building and maintaining prisons have prompted states to find alternatives to incarceration. Driven in part by a need to save money, several conservative-leaning states like Texas and Arkansas have experimented with finding ways to incarcerate fewer low-level drug offenders. The answers have included reducing prison terms for them or diverting them into treatment programs, releasing elderly or well-behaved inmates early, and expanding job training and re-entry programs. The policy is seen as successful across the ideological divide. For example, in Texas, which was an early innovator, taxpayers have saved hundreds of millions of dollars on what had been projected as a need to build prison space. With crime rates remaining at generational lows, the space is no longer necessary. Several years ago, a group called Right on Crime formed to push what it calls the “conservative case for reform.” Its Republican affiliates include Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor; Edwin R. Meese III, an attorney general during the Reagan administration; and Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker. “While the federal prison system has continued to slowly expand, significant state-level reductions have led to three consecutive years of decline in America’s overall prison population — including, in 2012, the largest drop ever experienced in a single year,” Mr. Holder’s speech says. “Clearly, these strategies can work. They’ve attracted overwhelming, bipartisan support in ‘red states’ as well as ‘blue states.’ And it’s past time for others to take notice.” Still, in states that have undertaken prison and parole overhauls, the changes were approved by state lawmakers. Mr. Holder’s reform is different: instead of going through Congress for legislation to modify mandatory minimum sentencing laws, he is invoking his power of prosecutorial discretion to sidestep them. Earlier in Mr. Obama’s presidency, the administration went through Congress to achieve policy goals like reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder forms of cocaine. But it has increasingly pursued a strategy of invoking unilateral executive powers without Congress, which the White House sees as bogged down by Republican obstructionism. Previous examples, like Mr. Obama’s decision last year to issue an executive order allowing immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children to remain without fear of deportation and to work, have drawn fire from Republicans as “power grabs” that usurp the role of Congress. Mr. Holder’s speech marches through a litany of statistics about incarceration in the United States. The American population has grown by about a third since 1980, he said, but its prison rate has increased nearly 800 percent. At the federal level, more than 219,000 inmates are currently behind bars — nearly half for drug-related crimes — and the prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above their official capacity. A version of this article appeared in print on August 12, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Dept. Of Justice Seeks To Curtail Stiff Drug Terms.Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Charlie SavagePublished: August 12, 2013Copyright: 2013 The New York Times CompanyContact: letters nytimes.comWebsite:  Justice  Archives 
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Comment #7 posted by Hope on August 13, 2013 at 08:10:36 PT
At least
Holder admitted there's something very, very wrong about the cursed drug war. I hope the treasonous, spurious, Constitution trampling DEA is shut down. For Good! I hope. I hope. I hope.I love my Runruff.
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Comment #6 posted by mexweed on August 12, 2013 at 18:24:55 PT:
A big project screaming for leadership
 runruff, now 2013 you at last have a chance to teach scores of people how to make a living and benefit society, by founding a One Hit Head Shop and training ambitious young handworkers from around the neighborhood to make (for exhhibit, demonstration and sale in your store) "CHOOMETTE" long-stemmed one-hitters and other ALTERNATIVES to the H-ot B-urning O-verdose M-onoxide "joint" and "blunt" which play a leading role in the genocidal war to get 800,000 more young Americans hooked on $igarettes each year, year after year, bizness as usual. At your shop customers will be able to try various makes of one-hitter, pen vape, e-cig, plug-in vaporizer etc., learn how to sift herbs for smoking use (see the wikiHow article, title needs changing to "vape use"), how to suction-load a 25-mg RSST Recommended Standard Single Toke and mostly vape with a one-hitter, etc. Kids will be allowed to toke unrescricted herbs like alfalfa, basil, camomile, damiana, eucalyptus, fo-ti-tieng, ginseng leaf, hibiscus, etc. and if your store is in Denver or Seattle you'll be able to serve adult tokes of real-thing sifted bud, BUT THE POINT IS CUSTOMERS OF ALL AGES WILL BE MADE VAPE-LITERATE and 700-mg. $igarettes will suddenly be a thing of the past, the No.1 worldwide health problem (6,000,000 deaths a year, alcohol only 2.5 mil.) SOLVED.After that victory, want to do something important with the rest of your life? Billions of physically vigourous moderate cannabis users everywhere on planet will form brigades to go out, arrest any deadwood hanging around in drought-stricken parts of the country threatening to cause billion dollar range fires, haul dead branches and litter away to a kind of natural JAIL-- gullies, ravines, seasonally dry creekbeds where flooding, erosion and runoff occur, press (a) screened fine dust, (b) chips, shreds, sticklets, (c) bundled brush, weedstalks etc. down into the Prison of that seasonally waterwasting depression, so that a mound of stubble looms there. So much for the prison metaphor. Now seed with cannabis which will sprout vigourously for a couple of years, then seed with fast-growing invesive watertrees like cottonwood, willow, ailanthus, eucalyptus etc. depending on your climate. Water runoff will be retarded, rainfall retained in uplands now drought-stricken. Cannabis is a BEST PRECURSOR CROP for treeplanting, it produces a litter which nourishes young successor plants.This work will involve many clipping and sawing jobs because good deadwood logs will be exported downtown to carpentry shops and will REPLACE much of the fancy geometrical lumber furniture that the corporate a$$holes have been "bizness as uzual" cutting down unnecessarily more living adult trees to make.This program will eliminate all unnecessary deforestation from the planet, the trees will increase and eat more CO2, Global Warming prevented. Aiming to have on planet by the year 2222 95% 200-fo0t or higher forest canopy in all tropical lands, 100-foot or higher on 95% of all temperate lands, billions of one-window greenhouses raising food in the arctic/antarctic, 75% of oceans covered with floating islands used for agricultural low-growth plantings (solid land reserved for trees, thank you). (And you can tell them the cannabis gave you all these ideas, see?)
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on August 12, 2013 at 17:49:13 PT
Thank you for always standing up for what you believe. I am not impressed with what Eric Holder said today. 
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Comment #4 posted by runruff on August 12, 2013 at 08:42:25 PT
OK, I looked up the correct spelling but I like my way better!
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Comment #3 posted by runruff on August 12, 2013 at 08:34:49 PT
A letter from the Piper.
Drug Policy Alliance Logo
The DEA is abusing its power and infringing on the rights of Americans. Help us hold them accountable! Take Action
Demand that your members of Congress hold hearings on the DEA now!
Dear jerry,The Drug Enforcement Administration is spying on Americans and treading on our rights in the name of the drug war.Earlier this week, journalists discovered that the DEA is secretly using National Security Agency and CIA intelligence to spy on and arrest Americans for drugs. On top of that, the DEA is lying about and covering up where they're getting the information and directing partner agencies to do the same, so no one is being held accountable!We need your help to stop this outrageous abuse of power. Demand that your members of Congress hold hearings on the DEA now!The DEA’s collaboration with the NSA, CIA and other agencies to spy on American citizens in the name of the war on drugs is a blatant abuse of power that strips Americans of their fundamental constitutional rights. Moreover, the DEA and its partners are creating fake investigative trails to disguise where the information originated, a scheme that has robbed defendants of their right to a fair trial.The DEA is spying, lying and using the war on drugs to trample the rights of Americans. But Congress has rarely held hearings on the DEA, its actions or its efficacy. Now we have an opportunity to change that. DPA is pressuring Congress to immediately investigate this scandal -- and we need your help to make them act.Take action today: urge your members of Congress to hold hearings on the DEA immediately!I’m counting on you to help us stop this indefensible abuse of rights by rogue federal police agents.Sincerely,Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance 
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Comment #2 posted by runruff on August 12, 2013 at 08:21:10 PT
A more kinder style of injustice.
In the DoJ [Department of Jerks] they are recognizing the public outcry, otherwise I am sure things would remain the same or worse.It may be that under the new sentencing policy I would not have had to do two years in lock-up and eight years federal probation for having a room full of clones and five pounds of dried herb. The clerk/trustees in prison said the fed does not even intervene on such a low level bust. They told me the fed had it in for me for my many years of anti-prohibition activism. I was a minor celeb in prison for my activism. For two years I taught Yoga, indoor grows and my biggest classes were always "how to cultivate psylicybin mushrooms". My prison nick-name was the un-glamours, "Grass Guy" I taught scores of people how to make a living and benefit society when they got out. 
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on August 12, 2013 at 07:06:35 PT
What Will They Do About Marijuana?
That is what I want to know.
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