Obama Expands Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Relief

On Thursday, Attorney General Holder announced the expansion of his new federal mandatory minimum guidelines to pending cases

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Manuel Balce Ceneta / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Attorney General Eric Holder, speaks about the mandatory minimum policy at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 2013 annual legislative conference in Washington.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Obama Administration is expanding their mandatory sentencing reforms to cases where charges have already been filed, during a Congressional Black Caucus forum on mandatory minimum sentencing held on Thursday,

This announcement follows the Obama Administration’s early August effort to curb mandatory minimum sentencing. At an American Bar Association conference on Aug. 12,  Holder announced some significant changes to sentencing guidelines, allowing judges the freedom to determine whether or not a defendant should serve the mandatory minimum sentence given their connection to larger-scale drug organization.

Those reforms originally applied to future cases. Now, according to a memo sent by the Attorney General’s office, if a defendant is either awaiting a sentence or a determination of guilt, the new guidelines are to be applied as long as the defendant is a non-violent, low-level offender with no connection to a drug cartel or gang.

“By reserving the most severe prison terms for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers or kingpins, we can better enhance public safety,” Holder said at the event. “We can increase our focus on proven strategies for deterrence and rehabilitation.  And we can do so while making our expenditures smarter and more productive.”

Holder’s announcement was the second time mandatory minimums have come up over the past week week. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on mandatory minimum sentencing on Wednesday where discussion of reform was met with bipartisan support.

Though Department of Justice officials say there is no current estimate of just how many people will be impacted by this change in policy, Jesselyn McCurdy, a senior legislative council ACLU Washington Legislative Office, says this represents another step toward finding a sensible alternative to mandatory minimum sentences. “We have a long way to go before the end of the War on Drugs,” McCurdy told TIME. “But, we’re seeing a rethinking of policy, which is always the beginning of an end.”

McCurdy says what’s next for mandatory minimums and the War on Drugs depends on Congress.

“The ball is in Congress’ court,” McCurdy said. And Congress has already begun to show some movement on both fronts; in the Senate, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who are both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined forces to draft and introduce the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 in March, which would allow judges more leeway when deciding whether or not to hand out a mandatory minimum sentence.

Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bill that expands the sentencing below the minimum for certain offenses, and applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduces the disparity between crack and powder cocaine, to offenders who were sentenced after the law was passed.

Yet, there are still policymakers and prosecutors who are holding strong to their belief that mandatory minimums are not only working, but also essential to the war on crime.  Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued mandatory minimum sentencing has helped to reduce crime. Scott Burns, the executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, which represents about 40,000 prosecutors nationwide, also testified at Wednesday’s hearing, where he expressed support for mandatory minimum sentencing.

Burns says the push to reform prisons by getting rid of mandatory minimum sentencing is a step in the wrong direction.

“Why would we start, with the success we’ve had, why would we start letting everyone out?” Burns told TIME. “Crime has gone down…. one tool that’s been effective in the dramatic reduction of homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults is mandatory minimum sentencing.”

25 comments
YolandaDaniels
YolandaDaniels

I'm reading people's comments and as always ignorance reigns. This is bigger than people know. The worst part of this is the people who get mandatory life sentences for a non-violent crime. It is pure injustice for someone to get a life sentence for making a phone call. No prior arrests or criminal record, non-drug user. No evidence at all, just a phone call. Imagine getting life for a phone call or for stealing a $159 jacket just because it's mandatory. There's no justice in that. They should use those mandatory sentences for the gang members, drug cartel members, murderers, rapists, pedophiles, etc.(true violent crimes).

dadhas8years
dadhas8years

I wish people wouldn't even comment unless they have a loved one or a father or husband incarcerated for a nonviolent drug crime  yet is serving more time than a person who sexually violates children or murders a person. The WAR on DRUGS needs to stop we are doing nothing but damaging families and making our children grow up without a parent or mother live without there child. Rich people get Rehab and the lower and middle class get prison. Drugs are an addiction and should be considered a health problem!!

AdelaB
AdelaB

I believe that if it helps to maintain secure the communities, then we should keep it but we also have to take into consideration that the life of the defendants is important too no matter what they have done. Only a person that is capable and have the knowledge should take the decision of prolonging their sentences or letting them come out. 

Virgo16
Virgo16

Both sides have good points. Its good to not spend extra money on people who have committed a small crime for ten years but then again if the person is willing to do the crime they should be willing to do the time.

It'sBritney
It'sBritney

In any case, it is so ridiculous and stupid if the government lets a non-violent background crime out to the society because if they did some awful stuff in the past, they would redo it over again.  That is their natural instincts for a living. How can we feel safe if we know that our kids walking on street that is surrounded by crime ? One out, ten down...

KaponoKuheana
KaponoKuheana

Many men and women in jail are incarcerated for crimes that may not be deemed as feasible terms. However, because they’re in jail, it will prevent them from possibly killing someone for an ounce of crack, tomorrow. Therefore, the criminals should not be released with a reduced sentence. Instead, that criminal should be put away with maximum punishment because he/she has made the choice of doing the crime.

~
~

Arguments for both sides are understandable; however, allowing an expansion of the minimum sentence ultimately seems like the best thing to do. By allowing people faced with, for example, a non-violent drug charge to face prison terms of sometimes over ten years we burn tax payers money to corporally punish people who need a slap on the wrist. These outrageous terms are one of the causes of prison overpopulation, which could be a threat to the safety of citizens if it were to get worse. The justice system and the rest of the United States could easily benefit from an expansion of mandatory minimum sentencing.

sdccfall2013
sdccfall2013

I feel that funds should support the rehabilitation of these minimal offenders in order to minimize the amount of inmates per prison. prison should only be for those offenders who actually associated themselves with the trafficking of drugs. In this day and age, offenders with a small charge face prison time and that time is being taken from those offenders who actually deserve it.

sdccstudentAL
sdccstudentAL

I agree that there should be a more room in penitentiaries for criminals who have committed more serious, violent and dangerous crimes.  There are too many small scale drug offenders to put them all in our prisons.

sdcccounterargumentsorryguys
sdcccounterargumentsorryguys

no way we need to keep as many people in jail as possible. these drug dealers need to stay off the streets. all they are doing is polluting out youths. if somebody offered my child drugs id want him to be behind for the rest of his life. this helps prevent immature children from destroying their lives and we need to protect out children, afterall, our youth will be the future of this nation.

Cyphersbg
Cyphersbg

The minimum sentences for drug arrest are crazy if you ask me! Somebody caught with drugs should be allowed to walk free while waiting of his/her trial to conclude. There are too many minor drug or non-violent drug offenders who are in jail for long for a substantial period of time. 20 years is a long time for someone who is not a heavy weight in the drug world.

Student95
Student95

 I agree Congress should reduce or let the judges have more free rein on mandatory minimum sentences so long as we are letting out individuals who don't have a history of violence, drug cartel or gang affiliation, and pose no immediate threat to the public. The "War On Drugs" costs United States taxpayers billions of dollars per year, fills up prisons, and is not curbing drug use. If people wish to use drugs recreationally, they should be allowed to do so. Besides, if certain drugs are legalized and sold commercially it could potentially create profit for state and local governments through taxes and create jobs in the United States. 

Jenton619
Jenton619

I totally support  this idea. today the United States pays a lot money for prison which should not be wasted, and I believe that the non-violent offenders are taking many places in the prison while the number of violent offenders is still going up, and are still so dangerous. 

DanielaCordova
DanielaCordova

the united States prisons are over populated by non-violent criminals while it should be only for the dangerous offenders that can't function in our society. My personal believe that this could be a good idea.

SDCCStudent3
SDCCStudent3

Prison reform is clearly needed in the U.S. as it holds only 5 percent of the world population and holds nearly a quarter of the worlds prisoners in it's jails. The tax money spent on keeping these people in jail could be spent on their rehabilitation from day one instead of keeping them locked up.

cg01
cg01

I personally think this is a good idea. We have a bunch of harmless people taking up space in jail when some one who actually is a threat to this world could take their place

VanessaBanks
VanessaBanks

i think we should all be open minded and give it a try, because it might work better tham you think.


traditionalman
traditionalman

That`s right Holder - let all those ghetto punks out of prison so they can join The King`s body guard.

cscaley1
cscaley1

Only Congress can curb mandatory minimums; they are statutory. Oh wait, we don't have a legitimate legislature anymore we have a King now.

aaronmed90
aaronmed90

Why not just put a gun to his head? He'd be much better off than with what you're asking. Did you see the part with the phrase "non-violent offenders"? Some of these guys get worse sentencing than pedophiles and rapists. How is that justice?

aaronmed90
aaronmed90

I agree that traffickers are harmful but as a parent you are kind of just as responsible if you neglect to look at the potential of drug abuse for your child. Most people who are imprisoned for drug abuse are mentally ill or have ADHD and untreated

mottherof10
mottherof10

you know who is going to offer your kids drugs... their friends, schoolmates and other kids the neighborhood thats who. There will always be people who use drugs and those who abuse drugs therefore there will always be someone selling drugs. There was a time in this country when we locked people away for doing the same regarding alcohol (at the top of my list for bad drugs) and how'd that work 

aaronmed90
aaronmed90

Those guys will remain in prison because they are linked to gangs, dumb ass. Read the damn thing instead of hollering like a retarded chimp.

ZuleikaPayano
ZuleikaPayano

I totally agree with you. There are people that have killed many times and they're out there walking in the streets as if they have never done such crime. In the mean time there are thousands of inmates in jail serving sentence of 10 years just for drugs.

aaronmed90
aaronmed90

*and are untreated for their clinical condition. This is the major reason why these changes need to be brought about. The US waits for people who are mentally ill to stick out and punishes them for behaving in a manner that suits their clinical condition. These people need hospitals, not jail cells.