Attorney General Urges Change in Sentencing Laws

At a conference at the American Bar Association in San Francisco, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder plans for the federal government to scale back stiff sentences for some drug crimes and divert low-level offenders to drug treatment and community service programs. “We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” he said.

A recent editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times said that the change in sentencing laws is a welcome reform for an overused and overburdened federal prison system. For decades, mandatory minimum sentencing, although politically popular, often times disallowed the court to look at the individual defendant and the individual case to decide if there were extenuating circumstances that led to the commission of the crime.

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In a statement regarding the Attorney General’s announcement, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said, “The mandatory minimum sentence policy has led to severe overcrowding in our prison system and swelled taxpayer spending on incarceration and detention.”

More and more states are beginning to realize that funds used to house low-level drug offenders in prisons are better utilized at treatment and supervision programs for these offenders. The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-profit organization that uses an analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and stimulate civic life, estimates that this shift in funding will save more than $4 billion over the next several years.

There are programs being developed in Illinois to accomplish these same goals. One program due to be introduced to the next session of the state legislature would offer prisoners who are at least 50 years-old and who have served at least 25 years an opportunity to go before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board and request parole. Older, ill prisoners cost the state $75,000 per year, compared to $22,000 per year for a healthy prisoner. The Attorney General, in his presentation, pointed out that elderly, non-violent offenders should not be incarcerated – something this program would address.

If you have been arrested for a non-violent crime, contact an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney to represent you. An excellent defense is especially important if you are facing mandatory sentencing.

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