Holder proposes changes in criminal justice system

Posted at 4:51 AM, Aug 13, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-13 01:12:42-04

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for major changes to the nation's criminal justice system -- including scaling back the use of harsh sentences for some drug-related crimes.

The appeal comes as the nation faces massive overcrowding in its prisons.

In remarks to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder also said he favors diverting people convicted of low-level offenses to drug treatment and community service programs. And he wants to expand a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, nonviolent offenders.

He says prisons should be used to "punish, deter and rehabilitate" -- not to "convict, warehouse and forget."

The attorney general says he's changing Justice Department policy, so that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations won't be charged with offenses that impose mandatory minimum sentences.

There's already some bipartisan support in Congress for Holder's ideas. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky says he's encouraged by the administration's view that mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders promote injustice and don't serve public safety.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, says he looks forward to working on the issue with Holder and senators on both sides of the aisle who support change.