AG Holder Hints at Major Drug Sentencing Reforms Coming

Looks like Attorney General Eric Holder is drawing the curtains on the War on Drugs

By Brentin Mock Aug 08, 2013

A few years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder joked that David Simon needed to create another season of the HBO drama "The Wire" — "I have a lot of power … Mr. Simon," said Holder. In response, Simon told Holder to use that power then to stop the War on Drugs. 

"He can’t do it," Simon told me when I interviewed him a couple years ago. 

Maybe Simon was wrong about that. In an NPR interview yesterday, Holder suggested that a conclusion to the drug war was in the works. 

"The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old," Holder told Carrie Johnson at NPR. "There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color."

According to Johnson’s report, Holder has been working with attorneys on a number of proposals that would reverse policies like three strikes laws and max-out sentences for low-level dealers. These reforms are expected to be announced as early as next week. 

"We can certainly change our enforcement priorities, and so we have some control in that way," Holder said in the NPR report. 

"Attorney General Holder is clearly right to condemn mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Both he and the president have an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy by securing substantial, long overdue drug policy reform."

The Alliance is calling for the Obama administration to push for The Smarter Sentencing Act, a bill with bi-partisan support in Congress that would lower mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses, make the recent reduction in the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity retroactive, and give judges more discretion to sentence certain offenders below the mandatory minimum sentence if warranted. 

Holder hinted in June that reforms were coming when he spoke at the American Film Institute’s screening of "Gideon’s Army," a documentary about the challenges of the public defender system in America. In that speech, he spoke about some of the root problems that have led to mass incarceration of young black men, which he observed when he was a Superior Court judge in Washington, D.C. 

"Day after day, lines of young men–most often African American young men– streamed through my courtroom," Holder said of his time as a judge. "In some cases, they had committed serious crimes.  In almost every case, they had had long histories of interactions with social services–and educational and juvenile justice systems– which had failed to interrupt the dangerous and potentially avoidable trajectory that led them to my courtroom."

Looks like it might be time for season six of "The Wire."