By Phillip Smith
In a speech Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said he was expanding the Justice Department's recently announced policy of not pursuing mandatory minimum drug sentencing to include people whose cases are already in the "pipeline."
Last month, Holder unveiled a major step toward reducing the federal prison population. He said he would direct US Attorneys that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders not tied to gangs or major trafficking organizations should not be charged in ways that trigger lengthy mandatory minimum sentences.
Now, he is going to include people who have been charged with such offenses, but whose cases have not yet been completed and who have not yet reported to prison, he said.
"I am pleased to announce today that the Department has issued new guidance to apply our updated charging policy not only to new matters, but also to pending cases where the defendant was charged before the policy was issued but is still awaiting adjudication of guilt," Holder said.
"By reserving the most severe prison terms for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers or kingpins, we can better enhance public safety," he told the audience at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Criminal Justice Issues Forum in Washington. "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."
According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, as of last month, there were some 89,000 people doing federal time for drug offenses. They are by far the largest category of federal prisoners and account for nearly half (46.8%) of all federal prisoners.