Attorney General Eric Holder this week announced a change in the way in which the federal government will charge drug offenders, tossing aside mandatory minimum sentences (which are strict dictates on sentences for drug-related crimes). "Because [mandatory minimums] oftentimes generate unfairly long sentences, they breed disrespect for the system. When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety," Holder said. "By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation."
The move was applauded by civil rights advocates and organizations promoting criminal justice reform. "By averting misdirected mandatory minimum sentences that tie the hands of law enforcement, the administration is taking concrete steps to rehabilitate drug users instead of warehousing them in expensive and often violent prisons," said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Human Rights. Julie Stewart, president of Families against Mandatory Minimums, added: "Today, at long last, the politics of criminal sentencing have caught up to the evidence. The changes proposed by the Attorney General are modest but they will make us safer and save taxpayers billions of dollars in the process."
Members of both political parties also cheered the move. "The administration's involvement in this bipartisan issue is a welcome development. Now the hard work begins to change the law to permanently address this injustice," said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. But as U.S. News & World Report's Steven Nelson noted, some Republicans questioned whether the administration was circumventing the law with its decision. "While reducing mandatory minimums may be good policy, I hope the attorney general fully understands that Congress should address the issue through legislation," said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.
And praise for Holder was not universal. "Far from being the failure that [Holder] portrayed, our criminal justice system over the last 20 years has reduced the crime rate by 50 percent," said William Otis, a professor at Georgetown Law School and former counsel to President George W. Bush. "It's due in significant part to the fact that we are incarcerating more people and incarcerating them for longer."
So is Holder making a good move on mandatory minimums? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Michael B. Mukasey Former Attorney General of the United States