Eric Holder Tackling Harsh Prison Sentences

The attorney general is reducing the time spent behind bars for minor drug offenses.

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Attorney General Eric Holder at the American Bar Association's annual meeting (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Monday that nonviolent drug offenders who are unaffiliated with gangs and large drug rings will not face charges that can result in harsh prison sentences.

He acknowledges that the new policy is important because American prisons are overcrowded. Part of the overcrowding can be traced back to laws passed in the 1980s that increased minimum sentences for drug offenses. Since 1980 the federal prison population has increased a whopping 800 percent, while the U.S. population has grown only by about 33 percent.

The new policy is part of a prison-reform package that Holder introduced during an American Bar Association speech in San Francisco.

Holder is calling for a change in Justice Department policies to reserve the most severe penalties for drug offenses for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. He has directed his 94 U.S. attorneys across the country to develop specific, locally tailored guidelines for determining when federal charges should be filed and when they should not.

He also said the Justice Department would work with the Department of Education and other allies "to confront the 'school-to-prison pipeline' and those zero-tolerance school discipline policies that do not promote safety," but instead serve as gateways to the criminal justice system.

"A minor school disciplinary offense should put a student in the principal's office and not a police precinct," Holder said.

Read more at the Washington Post.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM