“Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it. The reality is, while the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot prosecute our way to becoming a safer nation. To be effective, federal efforts must also focus on prevention and reentry [into society]. In addition, it is time to rethink the nation’s system of mass imprisonment.”
The above sounds like it could have been written by an Occupy demonstrator or civil rights leader, but those are the words of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Mr. Holder has set a new tone at the Department of Justice. Never before have I heard so high-ranking a prosecutor speak so frankly about the root causes of crime and the failures of our system. But I hope that Attorney General Holder’s legacy will be more than just a change in tone. I think it will be.
Mr. Holder has just announced a set of new policies that will reform federal prosecutions. Among them: more lenient sentences for non-violent drug offenders; greater respect for local laws legalizing marijuana; advocacy of proven alternatives to incarceration; and a change in charging priorities. In upcoming blogs, I will discuss each of these areas of reform.