Jane Braswell, Entry #5

The Washington Post – Some Prosecutors Fighting to Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Prison Sentences

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/some-prosecutors-fighting-effort-to-eliminate-mandatory-minimum-prison-sentences/2014/03/13/f5426fc2-a60f-11e3-a5fa-55f0c77bf39c_story.html

According to the Washington Post front page article on Friday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has endorsed an amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines calling for the elimination of mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.  It is drawing criticism from the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys who say that sentencing would take away their “most effective tool to get cooperation from offenders.”

Critics say that he is just trying to cut federal prison spending.  Holder agrees that it would “rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety.” While supporters of Holder’s plan agree that it will reduce prison overcrowding, they also stress that the new guidelines would allow sentences to be variable based on the level of guilt among defendants in a large drug ring.  Holder is suggesting that we should look at the circumstances of each case along with the defendant’s past history to determine an appropriate charge instead of automatically slapping them with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 to 20 years.

According to the Justice Department, prosecutors and attorneys can express their opinions on this suggested policy chafe, but they don’t make make policy. They must follow their guidelines.

Prison overcrowding and spending is an issue that needs to be addressed. I think Attorney General Holder has found an effective way to cut spending and reduce prison overcrowding with his proposed amendment.  In my view, it is not just some arbitrary cut that he is proposing. It would also be a fair and appropriate change. I find the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys’ plea reprehensible. To have a mandatory harsh sentence as a deterrent for a crime is one thing, but to have it as a bargaining or blackmailing tool is not ethical. 

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