War on drugs to ease up on non-violent drug offenders - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

War on drugs to ease up on non-violent drug offenders

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PHOENIX -

Attorney General Eric Holder says low-level offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that carry mandatory sentences.

It's a major shift in the war on drugs.

Supporters say it will help bring fairness to drug cases, but critics say it's a dangerous change to make.

We see drug busts here in Arizona almost weekly.  Some are big, but more often, they are small arrests.

Our jails are filled with low level drug offenders -- those who are arrested for drug crimes, but not linked to gangs or drug cartels -- and it's those offenders who are about to get off much easier if they face federal prosecution if Holder gets his way.

"When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety. They -- and some of the enforcement priorities we have set -- have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color," stated Holder.

As a first step, Holder has instructed federal prosecutors to stop charging many non-violent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences.  He also wants to give judges greater discretion in sentencing.

The reason for reform?

Holder says the prison population has grown by an astonishing rate -- by almost 800 percent since 1980.  Almost half of the inmates are serving time for drug related crimes.

Here in Arizona, according to the Department of Corrections, of the more than 40,000 inmates currently incarcerated, 8,000 are in for drug offenses.

Holder wants to divert people convicted of lower level offenses to drug treatment and community service programs.

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