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Holder plan opposed
Local police disagree with sentencing changes
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Local authorities disagree with major changes to the criminal justice system to scale back the use of harsh sentences for certain drug-related crimes.
With the U.S. facing massive overcrowding in its prisons, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday called for major changes to the nation’s criminal justice system, the Associated Press reported.
In remarks to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder said he favors diverting people convicted of low-level offenses to drug treatment and community service programs and expanding a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, non-violent offenders, the AP reported.
“We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate — not merely to convict, warehouse and forget,” Holder said.
In one important change, the attorney general said he’s altering Justice Department policy so that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels won’t be charged with offenses that impose mandatory minimum sentences, according to the AP.
Mandatory minimum prison sentences, a product of the government’s war on drugs that began in the 1980s, limit the discretion of judges to impose shorter prison sentences, the AP reported.
Under the changed policy, the attorney general said defendants will be charged with offenses for which accompanying sentences “are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins,” according to the AP.
Holder’s comments drew bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, the AP reported.
But that sentiment is not shared locally.
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said “many other avenues have been tried, and I think — and in my experience — what we see in the federal courts is the lengthy sentences get attention and change behaviors. I disagree to reducing the sentences on offenses further than what they already are.”
Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady shared similar sentiments.
“Our aggressive drug enforcement efforts have helped us to have one of the lowest crime rates we’ve had in this area in 30 years, and there is a direct correlation between substance abuse and crime, whether it be larcenies or other, more serious offenses,” Cassady said. “All negatively impact the community,” he added.
Cassady also said that community service programs likely would have to be expanded to handle the influx of those diverted under Holder’s plan.
“Drugs are the cancer of society. They have a devastating impact on families and on communities, and I think society needs to send a strong message, and the court system needs to send a strong message,” Perry said.
Harsh sentences for convicted drug offenders “I don’t think is too big of a burden on society,” Perry said. By doing otherwise, “you are removing one burden, but I think it will be added in another area. I think a strong statement needs to be sent to drug dealers at any level,” the sheriff said.
Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith also said he disagrees with Holder’s plan, partly because “there are no (low) level offenders prosecuted at the federal level. An offender who is prosecuted at the federal level is a high level offender and they should be imprisoned for an extended period of time,” he said.
For instance, offenders accused of distributing large quantities of drugs or drugs and guns are those usually prosecuted at the federal level, Smith said.
“If you are distributing methamphetamine and guns together, you are big deal; you are a problem in the community and you need to be dealt with,” he said.