It’s called the “Smart on Crime” initiative.
And U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s proposed changes in federal sentencing policies — which target long mandatory terms that have flooded the nation’s prisons with low-level drug offenders and diverted crime-fighting dollars that could be better spent — could mark one of the most significant changes in the way the federal criminal justice system handles drug cases since the government declared a war on drugs in the 1980s.
Holder’s plans, which he announced Monday, started with federal prosecutors being instructed to stop charging many nonviolent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences.
The next step is to work with a bipartisan group in Congress to give judges greater discretion in sentencing.
Holder also wants to divert people convicted of low-level offenses to drug treatment and community-service programs and expand a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, nonviolent offenders.
The ultimate goal? Reducing the ever-expanding prison population.
It addresses a major concern: Federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity, and the prison population has grown by almost 800 percent since 1980. Almost half the inmates are serving time for drug-related crimes.
And as The Associated Press reported, the impact of “Smart On Crime” could be significant.
Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a private group involved in research and policy reform of the criminal justice system, said blacks and Hispanics probably would benefit the most from the changes. He said blacks account for about 30 percent of federal drug convictions each year and Hispanics account for 40 percent.
Of course, Holder’s changes would only apply to the federal level. He said some issues are best handled at the state or local level, and he has directed federal prosecutors across the country to develop locally tailored guidelines for determining when federal charges should be filed and when they should not.
He said 17 states have directed money away from prison construction and toward programs and services such as treatment and supervision that are designed to reduce the problem of repeat offenders.
Currently, about 225,000 state prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. One national survey from 15 years ago by the Sentencing Project found that 58 percent of state drug offenders had no history of violence or high-level drug dealing.
Holder’s proposal was met with widespread praise, ranging from Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, who said the attorney general “is taking crucial steps to tackle our bloated federal mass-incarceration crisis,” to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said he was encouraged by the Obama administration’s view that mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders promote injustice and do not serve public safety.
We like the proposal Holder has set in motion. It makes sense to be tough on crime, but it’s just as important to be smart on crime.
It’s called the “Smart on Crime” initiative.
Time is now for Tomblin to support King Coal Highway
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., is asking Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to add the King Coal Highway project to West Virginia’s six-year highway improvement plan. It is a logical request, and one that Tomblin should act promptly on.
United effort to keep NASA in Fairmont is essential project
The high-technology sector is obviously vital to the economy of North Central West Virginia.
That’s why a strong, united effort to keep the NASA Independent Verification and Validation Program in Fairmont is absolutely essential.
COLUMN: Calling all readers: Be heard
I love to talk to readers.
I love to hear concerns they have about stories we’ve written, things they think should be included in the newspaper and things they think shouldn’t be.
Korean War veterans are deserving of a memorial
NEEDED: A total of $10,000 for the Korean War Memorial this year.
And a good man has been placed in charge of the funding. Charlie Reese, former president of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, is now director of the Marion County Development Office. His task was to make a recommendation as to what steps are necessary to keep the project moving.
Roll up your sleeves, give blood and you can save lives
It takes up to 100 units of blood to save the life of someone who sustains life-threatening injuries in a vehicle accident.
We’re hoping that the number of people who come to Fairmont Senior High School on Friday for and American Red Cross blood drive will exceed that amount.
Vehicles and motorcycles must share the road safely
The days are long. The weather is superb. There’s plenty of leisure time in these lazy days of summer.
It’s the perfect time to take a long motorcycle ride.
It’s also the perfect opportunity for us to take the time to remind not only riders but drivers of the need to share the road. And we feel compelled to mention it because just within the month of July, there have been two motorcycle-versus-car accidents within the City of Fairmont alone — one with severe injuries sustained by the motorcyclist and the other with less serious injury.
- Too many taking too few steps to protect selves from skin cancer
Distracted driving: It isn’t worth fine or a life
Today marks the day that police agencies from six states are joining forces to crack down on one thing — distracted driving.
And they will focus on that traffic violation for a solid week, with the stepped-up effort to curb distracted driving wrapping up on Saturday, July 26.
COLUMN: Are we people watchers or people judgers?
Let me tell you about my little friend Robby. Well, actually, it’s more about his family and especially his mom. I didn’t get her name. I heard Robby’s name quite a bit, though, during a trip home from Birmingham, Alabama.
I noticed the family in the Birmingham airport immediately. They were just the kind of family you’d notice.
Relish the rich bounty of state’s diverse, unique food traditions
This week, a group of federal officials on a three-day culinary tour of the state visited the Greenbrier Valley to find out what most of us here already know — we have a rich food tradition in West Virginia.
The group was made up of officials from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- More Opinion Headlines
- Time is now for Tomblin to support King Coal Highway