Attorney General Eric Holder will call Monday for major changes in the federal criminal justice system, including doing away with some mandatory minimum sentencing policies that have condemned scores of non-violent offenders to long prison terms and driven up the costs of incarceration.
In a speech before the American Bar Association, Holder will also push for early release of seniors and ill inmates who no longer pose a danger to society, yet require expensive special care.
"The bottom line is that, while the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,'' Holder will say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks. "We must never stop being tough on crime. But we must also be smarter on crime.''
The attorney general's position echoes a rapidly evolving shift in law enforcement and penal policy that has been sweeping the states in recent years. Increasingly, officials are acknowledging that they can no longer bear the cost of warehousing thousands of non-violent offenders — mostly for drug crimes — who have been targets of especially harsh punishment starting more than two decades ago when crime was surging.
Yet as states, including Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky and Texas, have reduced their prison populations by referring more offenders to treatment or probation, the federal system has continued to grow and now is at least 40% over capacity with nearly 220,000 inmates, according to the Justice Department. About 25% of the Justice budget goes to fund prison-related operations.