Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Monday changes to how the federal government prosecutes and sentences people accused of nonviolent crimes, and he gave Kentucky a shoutout in the process.
First, Holder is directing district attorneys to be more selective in what cases they pursue and to have plans for how they’ll go about doing that. Here’s NPR’s coverage of Holder’s speech, and here’s a full transcript from the Department of Justice.
“Particularly in these challenging times—when budgets are tight, federal sequestration has imposed untenable and irresponsible cuts, and leaders across government are being asked to do more with less—coordination between America’s federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies has never been more important,” Holder told a gathering of the American Bar Association in California.
Holder said he wants federal prosecutors to focus on serious crimes and violent offenders and noted that there are racial disparities in sentencing.
In his speech, Holder noted several state-level reforms that he described as “best practices.”
He mentioned Kentucky.
In this state, Holder said, “new legislation has reserved prison beds for the most serious offenders and re-focused resources on community supervision and evidence-based alternative programs.”
He was talking about the Mandatory Reentry Supervision program and other elements from House Bill 463, which the General Assembly approved in 2011, said Todd Henson, a spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Corrections.
Under this program, some inmates (but not all) who aren’t being given discretionary paroled are released about six months early under state supervision, Henson said.
It addresses an issue where inmates who’d served out their terms were being released straight back into society, with no officials looking over their shoulder, Henson said. The concern was that without some supervision upon release, those inmates would wind up back in prison sooner or later.
So, the inmate gets about six months knocked off their sentence even if they aren’t paroled, but they’re assigned to the probation and parole staff.
Now, the program has drawn criticism. And it’s too early to have definitive, apples-to-apples statistics on how effective it is.
The first round of inmates released under the program was in January 2012 and reentry rates are usually calculated on a two-year basis, but Henson said the numbers so far are encouraging.
So far, 5,893 inmates have been released under the program and 1,131 have wound up back in the criminal justice system—that’s 19.2 percent, Henson said.
The two-year reentry rate in 2009 was 30.7 percent—and it’s been in that 30-percent range for the past several years, he said.
Again, that’s not a direct comparison because the program hasn’t been effect for two years yet.
Rand Paul Gets a Nod, too
Holder said he’s changing Justice’s charging policies so that people accused of crimes that are nonviolent and who aren’t members of large drug operations won’t be prosecuted in a way that subjects them to mandatory minimum sentences. He called those requirements “draconian.”
Congress has legislation under consideration that would give judges more discretion in sentencing drug offenders—and Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, is a supporter. The legislation has support from Democrats and Republicans, and Holder acknowledged many of the congressional proponents, including Paul.
In a statement, Paul described the current mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines as an “injustice.”
“I am encouraged that the President and Attorney General agree with me that mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders promote injustice and do not serve public safety,” Paul said.
“I look forward to working with them to advance my bipartisan legislation, the Justice Safety Valve Act, to permanently restore justice and preserve judicial discretion in federal cases. I introduced this legislation in March with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy as a legislative fix to the very problem Attorney General Holder discussed today.”
(Top image via Shutterstock)