Holder: ‘We Can’t Incarcerate Our Way to Becoming a Safer Nation’

Holder will seek ways to reduce sentences for nonviolent, non-gang affiliated drug dealers.

By Brentin Mock Aug 12, 2013

Well, the private prison industry won’t like this at all: Today, Attorney General Eric Holder will announce new policies that will reduce maximized sentences for nonviolent drug offenders who aren’t tied to gangs or large-scale drug organizations. Holder will also seek sentencing reductions for elderly, nonviolent inmates while seeking alternative ways to handle other nonviolent criminals besides sending them to prison. 

Holder is expected to make these announcements, which he’s been hinting at for months, today at the national conference for the American Bar Association in San Francisco, according to The Washington Post

"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," Holder will say today, as written in excerpts of his speech obtained by the Post. "Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason. "We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation."

Between 1999 and 2010, the number of federal prisoners held in private prisons rose 784 percent, from 3,828 to 33,830, according to The Sentencing Project. State inmates in private prisons rose 40 percent in the same time period. In their report "Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America," they attribute that growth to the War on Drugs, which "fueled a rapid expansion in the nation’s prison population." 

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has reported that racially biased convictions are most evident in cases involving the sale or use of crack cocaine. While white Americans are far more likely to use crack cocaine, 79 percent of those sentenced for crimes involving the drug were black, while only 10 percent were white.