Lewis Diuguid

Holder to add to efforts to reduce persons in prison

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is right to want to peel back severe mandatory sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no links to big drug operations.

Mandatory minimum sentences imposed in the 1980s during the war on drugs have proven themselves to be detrimental to the population, costing millions of dollars for law enforcement, judicial and incarceration services. But the cost includes losses in communities of fathers, mothers and workers.

Communities of color have been hit particularly hard. Studies have shown that drug use among whites and minorities is about the same, however, a disproportionate number of minorities are incarcerated so that more than half of the people behind bars are persons of color.

Under Holder’s plan the most serious drug offenders would still get the toughest penalties. Alternatives to prison would be sought for low-level, nonviolent operators. The nation’s chief law enforcement officer also wants to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates, The Washington Post reports.

Holder’s proposal, which would include some legislative action, follows ongoing efforts to reduce the country’s incarceration rate, which is the worst in the world. The New York Times reports that for the third consecutive year, the number of inmates in state and federal prisons decreased from 1.59 million to 1.57 million, according to figures released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The prison population peaked in 2009 with 1.62 million inmates in state and federal prisons — up from 307,276 in 1978. But the prison building and incarceration boom has suffered immensely because of state budget cuts, falling crime rates and changes in sentencing laws.

Holder’s proposal will continue to move things in a positive direction. Education just has to fill in the gap offering more people a positive future.