The War on Drugs, four decades and billions of dollars later, has largely been a failure, with thousands of Americans serving harsh sentences for low-level drug crimes.
In an earlier post, we wrote that the U.S. Justice Department made a major change in its drug sentencing policy in order to curtail taxpayer spending and reduce overcrowding in prisons. The policy orders prosecutors to exclude quantities of illegal substances when filing charges, which prevents severe mandatory minimum sentences from kicking in.
Attorney General Eric H. Holden Jr. criticized the widespread incarceration of low-level drug offenders as happening for “no good law enforcement reason.”
Since then, Holden has expanded the Justice Department’s policy. The New York Times reports that the Justice Department ordered prosecutors to apply the new policy retroactively, meaning that it will apply to defendants who have already been charged but not yet sentenced.
The policy will apply to defendants who meet the following criteria:
- Their offense did not include violence, a weapon, or selling drugs to minors
- They are not leaders of a criminal organization
- They are not involved in “large-scale” gangs or drug trafficking organizations
- They do not have a significant criminal history
The policy would not apply to those who have already been sentenced and would not generally apply to those who chose to go to trial.
Holden said of the expanded policy, “By reserving the most severe prison terms for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers or kingpins, we can better enhance public safety. We can increase our focus on proven strategies for deterrence and rehabilitation. And we can do so while making our expenditures smarter and more productive.”
At Greenberg, Greenberg & Kenyon, APLC, we applaud this move toward more just, common-sense sentencing. Harsh mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug sentences do little to improve public safety and ignore the nuances of each case. As a society, our focus should be on rehabilitation and lowering the rate of repeat offenses, not imposing unjustifiably severe sentences.