“For the times they are a-changin”: U.S. AG Eric Holder on Criminal Justice Reform

1185695_400231236744275_2108143868_nOn Monday, August 12, 2013, U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, called for major reform in the criminal justice system in his address at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting.

Holder called for a new approach, long overdue, and remarked that “we must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is in too many respects broken. The course we are on is far from sustainable. And it is our time – and our duty – to identify those areas we can improve in order to better advance the cause of justice for all Americans.”

He emphasized what many Americans have long recognized and endured, that a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities.  And many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate these problems, rather than alleviate them. It’s clear…that too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.”

Holder called for “common sense changes” in major areas of the criminal justice system: charging decisions, police departments, the “school-to-prison pipeline,” resources for sexual assault and domestic violence victims, indigent defense systems, racial disparities, and mass incarceration.

Holder announced that the DOJ would start by:

  • “[R]ethinking the notion fo mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes.” Holder “mandated a modification of the Justice Department’s charging policies so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences.”
  • Expanding its policies for “considering compassionate release for inmates facing extraordinary or compelling circumstances – and who pose no threat to the public.” The policy would expand from considering release for medical reasons to also include “revised criteria for elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and who have served significant portions of their sentences.”
  • Identifying and sharing “best practices for enhancing the use of diversion programs – such as drug treatment and community service initiatives – that can serve as effective alternatives to incarceration.”
  • Directing “every U.S. Attorney to designate a Prevention and Reentry Coordinator in his or her district – to ensure that this work is, and will remain, a top priority throughout the country.”
  • Directing “all Department of Justice components, going forward, to consider whether any proposed regulation or guidance may impose unnecessary collateral consequences on those seeking to rejoin their communities.”

“[T]his is a big deal! This is the first speech by any Attorney General calling for such massive criminal justice reforms. This is the first major address from the Obama Administration calling for action to end the mass incarceration crisis and reduce the racial disparities that plague our criminal justice system.” (ACLU)

Text: http://1.usa.gov/1d0aQN5

Video: http://cs.pn/1bpwIzF

How to Process Eric Holder’s Major Criminal Law Reform Speech (ACLU): http://bit.ly/19Zri0q

Justice Dept. Seeks to Curtail Stiff Drug Sentences (NY Times): http://nyti.ms/14n2vLF

AG Eric Holder: “It’s time.” (Drug Policy Alliance):http://bit.ly/1eEUjMv

For Holder, ‘Smart’ is the New ‘Tough’ on Crime (PBS):http://to.pbs.org/14DXzWH

Initial reactions to Holder’s speech (Sentencing Law and Policy blog): http://bit.ly/1eKCYSl

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