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AG Eric Holder's new mandatory minimum sentences drug policy can benefit families

Published: Monday, Aug. 12 2013 1:53 p.m. MDT

United States Attorney Gen. Eric Holder speaks to the American Bar Association Annual meeting Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, in San Francisco. In remarks to the association, Holder said the Obama administration is calling for major changes to the nation's criminal justice system that would cut back the use of harsh sentences for certain drug-related crimes.  (Eric Risberg, Associated Press) United States Attorney Gen. Eric Holder speaks to the American Bar Association Annual meeting Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, in San Francisco. In remarks to the association, Holder said the Obama administration is calling for major changes to the nation's criminal justice system that would cut back the use of harsh sentences for certain drug-related crimes. (Eric Risberg, Associated Press)

Attorney General Eric Holder made headlines Monday with the announcement of a new federal policy for drug prosecutions — a change that could help keep more families together.

“The attorney general is altering Justice Department policy so that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels won't be charged with offenses that impose mandatory minimum sentences,” the Associated Press reported. “Mandatory minimum prison sentences, a product of the government's war on drugs in the 1980s, limit the discretion of judges to impose shorter prison sentences.

“Under the altered policy, the attorney general said 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.’ ”

Holder’s declaration potentially bodes well for U.S. families because, according to statistics from the Drug Policy Alliance, “2.7 million children are growing up in U.S. households in which one or more parents are incarcerated. Two-thirds of these parents are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, primarily drug offenses.”

Indeed, in the scathing column he published Sunday for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof cited family cohesion as a primary reason for rethinking federal mandatory minimum sentences: “We have invested in mass incarceration in ways that are crushingly expensive, break up families and are often simply cruel. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has almost one-quarter of the world’s prisoners. This hasn’t always been the case, but it is the result of policies such as mandatory minimum sentences since the 1970s.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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