WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department will avoid charging certain low-level and nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimums, Attorney General Eric Holder will announce Monday. The policy shift will allow certain defendants -- those without ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels -- to avoid what Holder called "draconian mandatory minimum sentences."
Holder, in a speech before the American Bar Association in San Francisco on Monday, will also announce that the Justice Department is giving U.S. attorneys throughout the country a greater amount of prosecutorial discretion.
"Some issues are best handled at the state or local level," Holder will say, according to prepared remarks provided by the Justice Department. "And that’s why I have directed the United States Attorney community to develop specific, locally-tailored guidelines -- consistent with our national priorities -- for determining when federal charges should be filed, and when they should not."
The "Smart On Crime" plan that Holder is announcing intends to lower the overall federal prison population. As part of that measure, Holder will announce, elderly prisoners who committed no violent crimes and served a significant portion of their sentences may be eligible for early release.
"Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities," Holder will say. "However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it."
Under the drug policy, Holder will say defendants would be "charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins."
"By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation -- while making our expenditures smarter and more productive," Holder will say.