Prosecutors Seeking Fewer Mandatory Minimum Sentences Against Drug Offenders

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Attorney General Eric Holder has pushed federal prosecutors to lower sentencing rates for non-violent criminals

One year after Attorney General Eric Holder announced Smart on Crime, an initiative that discourages federal prosecutors from seeking mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, sentencing rates have fallen to an all-time low.

In a speech at the National Press Club, Holder, who is in the final weeks of his job, said that federal prosecutors have not only sought less severe punishments for nonviolent drug offenders, but they have tried fewer drug-related cases overall. The percentage of prosecutors who sought minimum sentences in the last year fell from 66 to 50 percent. Smart on Crime aimed to bring a renewed sense of fairness in sentencing disparities and TO remedy the overflowing prison system.

"For years prior to this administration, federal prosecutors were not only encouraged—but required—to always seek the most severe prison sentence possible for all drug cases, no matter the relative risk they posed to public safety," Holder said in his speech. "I have made a break from that philosophy."

Holder also has pushed for prosecutors to focus their attention on punishing serious offenders more severely. In the last year, the minimum sentence for serious offenders rose from an average of 96 to 98 months. 

"While old habits are hard to break, these numbers show that a dramatic shift is underway in the mindset of prosecutors handing nonviolent drug offenses," he said. "I believe we have taken steps to institutionalize this fairer, more practical approach such that it will endure for years to come."

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