U.S. Attorney General supports plan to reduce some drug-related sentences

U.S. Attorney General supports plan to reduce some drug-related sentences
Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 5:23pm

U.S Attorney General Eric Holder is endorsing a plan that would mean shorter prison sentences for certain non-violence drug traffickers, ultimately trimming the prison population and cutting federal spending.

There are more than 216,000 inmates in federal prison across the United States, and nearly half are serving time for drug-related crimes, according to Holder. 

The La Tuna Correctional Institution in Anthony, Texas is the closest federal prison in our area.  Officials there said 64-percent are serving jail time after being caught with illegal drugs.

Holder testified before the U.S. Sentencing Commission Thursday and said the change would also create a more fair criminal justice system.

"As it stands - and as this Commission has recognized - certain types of cases result in too many Americans going to prison for too long, and at times for no truly good public safety reason," said Holder. 

Holder said state and local governments spent $80 billion on incarceration in 2010. 

The proposed plan would mean people convicted of certain low-level, non-violent federal drug crimes would face sentences appropriate to their individual conduct, rather than strict mandatory minimums.

Guillermo Valenzuela, who works for Aliviane, a drug treatment center in El Paso, said the conversation about reducing sentences needs to include treatment.

Valenzuela said his organization works directly with the drug courts in El Paso to offer treatment to drug users who are incarcerated for lesser drug possession crimes.

"If they are thinking about doing this drug court model at the federal level, that's when you'll see change, a more meaningful change for the better," said Valenzuela.

However, Valenzuela also acknowledges that treatment isn't cheap, and he is concerned that the money saved through Holder's plan won't be applied to that treatment.

If adopted, the new proposal could reduce prison time by an average of one year.  The Sentencing Commission could vote on the plan as soon as April.

NewsChannel 9 reached out to the drug courts in El Paso County, as well as the District Attorney's office for this story, but they were out for spring break and were unavailable to comment on this story.

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