'Smart on Crime' Means Get Out of Jail for Thousands of Drug Offenders

April 22, 2014 - 5:54 AM

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama signed legislation four years ago to reduce "unfair disparities" in drug sentences, but even so, "there are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime," Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday.

Because of when these drug offenders were sentenced, they will spend more time in prison than they would if they were sentenced today.

"This is simply not right," Holder said.

Holder says the White House wants to consider many more clemency applications -- "to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety."

Holder announced that the Justice Department will release new clemency guidelines later this week:

"Once these reforms go into effect, we expect to receive thousands of additional applications for clemency. And we at the Department of Justice will meet this need by assigning potentially dozens of lawyers -- with backgrounds in both prosecution and defense -- to review applications and provide the rigorous scrutiny that all clemency applications require."

Holder said the "new and improved approach" will allow the Justice Department to recommend "as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences."

Last December, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight men and women who had each served more than 15 years in prison for crack cocaine offenses due to mandatory minimum guidelines that are now considered to be "profoundly out of date."

"These stories illustrate the vital role that the clemency process can play in America's justice system," Holder said.

As a society, we pay much too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver the just outcomes necessary to deter and punish crime, to keep us safe, and to ensure that those who have paid their debts have a chance to become productive citizens.

"Our expanded clemency application process will aid in this effort. And it will advance the aims of our innovative new Smart on Crime initiative -- to strengthen the criminal justice system, promote public safety and deliver on the promise of equal justice under law."

Last August, Holder said the nation's prisons faced massive overcrowding:"[T]oo many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason," he said. He also said that "widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable."

Among other things, Holder at the time directed federal prosecutors to stop charging nonviolent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences.

More recently, Holder complained in February that state laws barring felons from voting are "too unjust to tolerate."