By “Matt Lewis & The News” guest blogger Emily Zanotti
I write enough stories hating on Eric Holder that I could at least give him a little credit when he manages to distract me from everything else he’s doing by getting something marginally right. He might be digging through your Gmail account looking for that one time you emailed the Indian manufacturer of your pressure cooker, America, just to find out if you could use it to blow that decades-stuck door on your garage open, but at least he’s talking about reforming drug policy. Sort of.
In an announcement expected sometime today, on the heels of last night’s Breaking Bad season premiere, the DOJ will instruct prosecutors whose targets are low-level drug offenders who have no obvious connections to organized crime (likely those who are busted for possession under federal laws) not to pursue the lengthy mandatory federal drug sentences that could keep them behind bars for years.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to announce Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.
The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder will reveal in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, according to senior department officials. He is also expected to introduce a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals…
Holder is calling for a change in Justice Department policies to reserve the most severe penalties for drug offenses for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. He has directed his 94 U.S. attorneys across the country to develop specific, locally tailored guidelines for determining when federal charges should be filed and when they should not.
Basically, because there are mandatory minimum sentences already in place (as part of a 1980s effort to “prevent” drug use by imposing huge penalties for possessing even small amounts of marijuana), federal prosecutors will have to change the way they charge low-level offenders, so that they can avoid long prison sentences. A move towards reforming those laws isn’t just common sense as it relates to prison populations, communities, law enforcement or America’s finances; it’s common sense as it relates to organized crime, too. Prison is often used as a training and recruitment ground for street gangs. So while you might go in to prison as a marijuana user, but you could come out as marijuana middle management. And while that might make your life profitable for a short time, that job doesn’t guarantee you a lot of personal longevity or upward mobility. And if it’s anything like Breaking Bad, you still have to hide all that cash in your garage and then it’s just going to be awkward when you can’t pay your medical bills but you can probably afford to burn stacks of money to keep warm.
Goodness knows, as Barack Obama watches his numbers tank, he has to be thinking about how his legacy is going to play out once he leaves office. He’s already made such a mess of foreign affairs that Chuck Schumer has to provide the backbone in our relations with Russia over the Olympics, and the man has to wiggle around impotently to sink a putt on the third try. The only thing he has left, particularly given his own “Choom Gang” -era hypocrisy on the subject, is to tackle the Drug War, even if he and Eric Holder are already behind a number of decided red states in handling prison reform.
But of course, leave it to these dudes to pick the dumbest way possible to make these changes. Suggesting to prosecutors that they might want to change the way they prosecute is a nice gesture, but it’s also sort of like telling someone that they might want to switch to the virgin margaritas after they’ve been swigging Jose Cuervo from the bottle. They’re probably not going to listen and without Congress making a change to the law, there’s pretty much nothing you can do about that. And while Holder’s missive reportedly contains a commitment to work alongside legislators to rework the law, it could actually make things worse by forestalling any Congressional action – after all, why should Democrats risk the political pitfalls of rolling back drug laws, when Eric Holder has already spoken on the subject from his burning bush?
Maybe I’m just cynical, because I figure, given this Administration’s history with forward momentum, I feel like they’re going to ruin it somehow. You know what I mean, America. Because you feel it to. Don’t lie.
Emily Zanotti is a political communications consultant and the editor-in-chief of NakedDC.com, an incredibly fantastic political gossip and humor blog that all of you should read.