U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced, Monday, at the American Bar Association’s annual convention in San Francisco that major changes are coming to the Justice Department.
Holder noted during his remarks that American taxpayers are spending upwards of $80 billion a year on the federal prison system, and that the prison population has risen 800% since the 1980s while the U.S. population as a whole has only risen by about 30%.
Most people might assume those statistics indicate the federal government needs to cut some costs from the prison system, or that America is grappling with a very serious crime epidemic. Not Attorney General Eric Holder. His answer to these numbers: Don’t put as many criminals in prison.
Those are the reforms he is announcing, according to ABC News. Holder’s Justice Department is setting the following goals:
- Prosecutors need to consider dropping federal charges against criminals. Holder’s point is that if a person has broken both state and federal law, maybe they should just be prosecuted under state law. Of course, if that’s your position, one has to wonder what is the point in having both a state and a federal prison system; couldn’t we save more money by consolidating the two?
- The DOJ needs to reform minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders. This comes from the same Attorney General whose Justice Department refused to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act in Court and has instructed its U.S. Attorneys not to prosecute marijuana users “complying with state laws” in places like California and Maine, despite the fact those users are in blatant violation of federal law. Attorney General Holder says prosecutors need more “discretion” to prosecute as they see fit. Of course, this means prosecution of drug offenders is left to the subjective views of the individual prosecutor.
- Elderly, nonviolent offenders should get reduced prison sentences. It’s wrong to treat people differently because of their age–unless they are aging convicts. Holder calls it “compassionate release.” Originally, compassionate release was reserved for inmates with medical complications–such as terminal illnesses. In the future, however, such accommodations may be made for any inmate past a certain age.
- The DOJ needs alternatives to incarceration. Basically, Holder indicates drug offenders may go to rehab instead of prison.
Does the federal prison system need reforming? Definitely. The late Chuck Colson devoted a significant portion of his life to prison ministry and reform. The best way to reduce the number of people you are putting in prison, however, is to reduce crime. That’s done at the family and community level. That’s a whole lot harder than simply deciding not to prosecute or incarcerate certain offenders–and that’s probably why Holder is taking the easy-out of simply deciding we will enforce our laws and prison sentencing more subjectively.