With a prison population of about 1.5 million, the U.S. government is making big changes in how drug crimes are prosecuted and sentenced. The federal government seems to be taking firm action to correct a problem with sentencing requirements that Houston drug crimes lawyers have recognized for many years.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday announced sweeping changes, the first being that minor drug dealers will be spared the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that have locked many up for a decade or longer.
The U.S. Department of Justice will also direct its prosecutors to go around federal rules and not record the amount of drugs seized from non-violent dealers who are not affiliated with drug cartels or larger gangs in order to side step federal sentencing requirements.
In 1971, U.S. President Richard Nixon started the so-called war on drugs. Since then, the prison numbers soared, accounting for 25 percent of the world’s prison population even though the U.S. population is only 5 percent of the world’s population.
Houston drug crimes lawyers know that drug-related offenses account for most of these incarcerations. People convicted for selling 5 kg. of cocaine are imposed with a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.
Holder deemed the current system as “ineffective and unsustainable.”
“As the so-called war on drugs enters its fifth decade, we need to ask whether it has been fully effective and usher in a new approach,” he added. “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason. We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer country.”
Holder also pointed out that black offenders are likely to receive sentences that are 20 percent longer as against white offenders convicted of the same crime.
“This isn’t just unacceptable, it is shameful,” Holder expressed.
With Holder’s proposal to reduce the prison population, Mark Mauer, executor director of the advocacy group The Sentencing Project, said there has been a significant development. In the past 3 years, the 1.5 million-strong prison population has begun to decrease.
According to Mauer, about half of the 200,000 individuals locked up in federal prisons are convicted for drug offenses; 60 percent of them are serving the mandatory minimum sentence. He added that 45 percent of the 25,000 people convicted in drug-related cases are lower-level offenders like couriers and street-level drug dealers.
Holder also expressed his other prison reform proposals, which include early release of elderly inmates who are no longer deemed dangerous. In addition, Holder proposes that inmates undergo drug-treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration, which Houston drug crimes lawyers have found to be a more effective option in many cases.
“”We must never stop being tough on crime. But we must also be smarter on crime,” Holder said, adding that the “widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable.”
“We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate – not merely to convict, warehouse and forget,” Holder added.
If you’ve been charged with a drug-related offense, contact the Houston drug crimes lawyers at Ricardo N. Gonzalez & Associates today.