Attorney General Eric Holder Calls for Major Sentencing Reform

Press Release August 6, 2013
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper 202-669-6430</p>

In an interview with NPR that aired today Attorney General Eric Holder said there are too many people in prison and it is time for federal sentencing reform. He could announce major changes as early as next week.

In the NPR interview Holder said:  “The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old. There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

“Attorney General Holder is clearly right to condemn mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Both he and the president have an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy by securing substantial, long overdue drug policy reform.”

A team of lawyers at the Justice Department is reportedly working on proposals that Holder could present as early as a speech next week. Some of the proposals could include de-prioritizing low-level drug offense.

“[W]e can certainly change our enforcement priorities, and so we have some control in that way,” Holder said. “How we deploy our agents, what we tell our prosecutors to charge, but I think this would be best done if the executive branch and the legislative branch work together to look at this whole issue and come up with changes that are acceptable to both.”

Holder’s remarks are the latest in unprecedented momentum for major criminal justice reform. Several bi-partisan reform bills have been introduced in Congress and a left/right consensus is building. A few months ago, a coalition of over 175 artists, actors, athletes, elected officials and advocates, brought together by hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons and Dr. Boyce Watkins, presented an open letter to President Obama urging him to tackle mass incarceration and drug policy reform. States have already taken the lead. Voters in Colorado and Washington, for instance, voted to end marijuana prohibition last November. Senator Patrick Leahy, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he wants to have hearings on both sentencing reform and resolving the state/federal conflict over marijuana.

The Drug Policy Alliance urges the Obama Administration to:

“The U.S. is at a pivotal moment right now where fundamental change to our bloated, racially-biased criminal justice system is possible,” said Piper. “But change isn’t inevitable; it will take significant leadership by Attorney General Holder, President Obama, and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.”  

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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