The Westside Gazette

Eric Holder says prisons are too full; Black people have been harmed the most

Eric Holder

Eric Holder says prisons are too full; Black people have been harmed the most

By Your Black World

It appears that the efforts of activists are working. In an interview with NPR, Attorney General Eric Holder has finally admitted that there are too many Americans in prison and that it’s time to modify the incarceration process. Holder says that major changes could be announced as early as this week.

Holder said, “The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old. There have been a lot of un-intended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

The announcement comes after meetings between the Attorney General’s Office and various groups, including the coalition formed by Dr. Boyce Watkins and Russell Simmons.

Watkins and Simmons were able to get 175 celebrities, activists and scholars to co-sign an open letter to the Obama Ad-ministration asking them to declare an end to the War on Drugs.

“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 over-due drug policy reform.”

Holder says that a team of attorneys are working to put an end to the drug war. A speech could be given by the AG as early as next week.

“[W]e can certainly change our enforcement priorities, and so we have some control in that way,” Holder said. “How we deploy our agents, what we tell our prosecutors to charge, but I think this would be best done if the executive branch and the legislative branch work together to look at this whole issue and come up with changes that are acceptable to both.”

States have already taken the lead. Voters in Colorado and Washington, for instance, voted to end marijuana prohibition last November. Senator Patrick Leahy, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he wants to have hearings on both sentencing reform and resolving the state/federal conflict over marijuana.

The Drug Policy Alliance urges the Obama Administration to:

Support bi-partisan sentencing reform legislation in Congress, such as:

·   The Safety Valve Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Senator Rand Paul, and in the U.S. House by Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott and Republican Congressman Thomas Massie. The bills would allow federal judges to sentence non-violent offenders below the federal mandatory minimum sentence if a lower sentence is warranted.

·  The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Democratic Senator Richard Durbin and Republican Senator Mike Lee, which 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.

·       The Public Safety Enhancement Act, introduced in the U.S. House by Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz and Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott, which would allow certain federal prisoners to be transferred from prison to community supervision earlier if they take rehabilitation classes, saving taxpayer money while improving public safety.

·         Nominate a drug czar who is going to prioritize reducing the federal prison population and undoing racial disparities. ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikoswke was recently nominated to head U.S. Customs and Border Protection, giving President Obama an opportunity to nominate someone who will aggressively shift our approach to drug use from a criminal justice issue to a health issue, which would substantially reduce mass incarceration while improving public health.

·       Issue directives keeping federal law enforcement from interfering with state efforts to regulate marijuana instead of criminalizing it. 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Two states have legalized marijuana like alcohol. Polling indicates more states will likely adopt major marijuana reform in 2014 and 2016. Federal law should change to let states try new approaches that reduce incarceration.

“The U.S. is at a pivotal moment right now where fundamental change to our bloated, racially-biased criminal justice system is possible,” said Piper. “But change isn’t inevitable; it will take significant leadership by Attorney General Holder, President Obama, and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.”

Dr. Boyce Watkins applauds the recent announcement by Holder. Dr. Watkins says that the War on Drugs has been a holocaust for the Black community and that it’s time to start repairing the damage that has been done.

“Our families and communities have been destroyed by the drug war,” said Dr. Watkins.  ”We were the ones getting addicted to the drugs, being killed over the drugs and going to prison for the drugs. That’s been the single greatest obstacle for progress in Black America over the last 40 years.  I applaud the Attorney General for showing courage on this important issue.”



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