(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Low-level and non-violent drug offenders will no longer face severe mandatory sentences, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The new policy, announced Monday in San Francisco, is part of the Justice Department’s efforts to reform sentencing due to massive overcrowding of U.S. prisons. We’ll hear from supporters and critics of Holder’s announcement.

Watch Eric Holder's full speech to the ABA in San Francisco on Monday:

Guests:
Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a nonprofit, public interest law organization dedicated to the rights of crime victims and the criminally accused
Franklin E. Zimring, William G. Simon professor of law at the UC Berkeley School of Law and author of "The City that Became Safe: New York's Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control"
William Otis, adjunct professor of law at Georgetown Law School and former federal prosecutor who served as special counsel to President George H.W. Bush
Natasha Minsker, associate director of the ACLU of Northern California

  • Shane

    Holder is trying to appear magnanimous, but don’t forget: It’s not just minor drug offenders he wants to let off the hook. Holder wants to let the criminal bankers go entirely unprosecuted, as well. But somehow the media isn’t very interested in that, or specifically in Holder’s personal connections to the mortgage fraudsters, which led him to give criminal bankers a pass.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/20/us-usa-holder-mortgage-idUSTRE80J0PH20120120

    • Ehkzu

      Whether true or false, this is off-topic and a personal attack on the Attorney General–something ideologues frequently do instead of tackling the actual issues, because simple-minded people can’t understand issues–so they make decisions based on personal animus or affection. “This guy looks and talks like me, so I’ll vote for him. That guy looks and talks like The Other, so I hate him and I’ll vote against him.”

  • Ehkzu

    Ever since President Lyndon B. Johnson freed the slaves–and anyone who knows the South understands what I’m saying–the old Southern White establishment has been all about Plan B to re-enslave blacks.
    They called Plan B the War on Drugs and Getting Tough on Crime. Blacks are “stopped and frisked” disproportionate to whites, charged far more seriously for similar crimes than whites, sentenced to far longer terms for similar crimes than whites, and then disenfranchised for life in the Red states, as well as being economically disenfranchised as well, since most prisons are now just warehouses.
    The voter suppression laws in the Red states are part and parcel of this scheme to disenfranchise blacks.
    Note that if we made most drugs legal it would also gore the ox of the prison-industrial complex, comprising the private for-profit prison system and the prison guard unions in the public prison system–major political contributors, coincidentally.

    • Shane

      FYI, Forum is a program for thinking people. You might be more at home in future watching WWE wrestling instead or setting up dog fights.

  • EIDALM

    I believe that all of the illicit drugs should be decriminalized and addicts should be treated for their addiction.

  • Ehkzu

    “Crime is at 40 year lows” in “soft on crime” states just as much as in “tough on crime” states. So whatever the cause is, It has nothing to do with the mass incarceration of low-level drug “offenders.”
    The GOP has been flogging the “tough on crime” horse for decades because it works wonderfully on the sort of low-information, aging white voters who comprise its current base.

    • Shane

      That’s an obvious racist and ageist comment.

  • amyj1276

    The guest just implied that there is a causal relationship between imprisoning more people and lower crime rates. But no research has shown a causal relationship. At best it’s correlational, but even that is a stretch since the fact is that crime rates have declined all over–even where sentencing was not changed and for juveniles. Research is very clear that what we’re doing is creating more criminals and more criminal behavior. Only about 20% of all criminals commit about 90% of crimes, and our system is making it worse. This common-sense policy of being “smart” on crime rather than some simple-minded approach to being “tough” (or dumb) on crime should be applauded.

  • Lucas

    Adjunct professor Otis makes arguments that the crime rate reductions over the last 40 yrs are strictly due to the imprisonment of minor drug offenders. His arguments are too simplistic for the audience listening to forum. So many other factors affect crime, such as the economy or the legalization of abortion access after Roe v Wade.

    Prof Otis also seems to think that we have not made other tradeoffs along the way. A tangible effect of the explosion in imprisonment is the defunding (and incremental privatization) of K-12 and higher education.

    It’s ironic that so many will wave the flag about us living in the land of the free, but are so eager to imprison increasing numbers of our countrymen.

    • Ehkzu

      Don’t forget how many taxpayer dollars have been diverted into the pockets of the private for-profit prison-industrial complex and the prison guard unions.

  • Ehkzu

    If what the President and his Attorney General are doing is constitutional–and it obviously is–then claims that they’re doing some kind of end run on Congress are claims that the Executive branch should not be acting within its constitutional scope of authority.
    No branch of government is supposed to be the subservient puppet of the other branches, much as Republicans would like them to kowtow to whichever branch Republicans currently control.

  • thucy

    Kudos to Dave Iverson for challenging the guests. This listener appreciates it.

  • Monsieur Oblong

    This guest has lost my respect for being blindly partisan. His insistence on pointing out that Rand Paul is not, effectively “one of us” makes it sound like he’s just parroting party talking points. I’d rather hear a guest who is capable of independent thought.

    • Bread_Sticks

      I noticed this too. He fails to realize the GOP is a “party” AKA “a group of people.” Instead he picks and chooses those that follow his own ideology.

  • Ehkzu

    It is quite likely that the drop in crime rates in America actually correlates to the drop of lead in the blood of children after it was banned from house paint, gasoline, paint on toys and other common sources.

    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/01/prison-population-dropping-can-you-guess-why

    • Shane

      Wishful thinking at best.

  • Hank

    Academic research on the relationship between increased incarceration and crime rates is extensive and there is no consensus.
    Steven Levitt at U Chicago (recently quoted) also considers legalization of abortion in 1973 (and reduction in poor unwanted children maturing in the 1990s, when crime really started falling) as important. Others consider banning of lead in gas and paint in the 1970s as important since lead poisoning is known to cause aggressive violent behavior. Three strikes is a hammer when what we need is a scalpel. It tends to target drug and property crime offenders and most citizens/voters really care more about keeping violent offenders in prison. These offenders would generally have had substantial sentences without three strikes laws. http://www.amazon.com/Punishment-Democracy-Strikes-California-Studies/dp/0195136861

    • Steven Caron

      ya hank, when i heard him cite steven levitt’s study (i just read freakanomics and not the actual uni paper) i was taken aback! either i misunderstood what i was reading or levitt was actually saying that legalization of abortion lead to the drop in crime and that all that other stuff (increase in police forces, stricter gun laws, etc) didn’t do much at all.

      professor otis distorted levitt’s findings for his own debate point and made it sound like a fact but is just incorrect.

  • Selostaja

    A hispanic friend of mine tested into and attended an exclusive high school outside of his neighborhood, Spanish Harlem. He was surrounded by wealthy whites for the first time in his life. What surprised him was their level of drug use and the variety. He was quickly approached to steal their cars for insurance fraud and scoring drugs because they assumed by his skin color this was an innate skill. He was introduced to drugs which he rejected; he needed to stay sharp because as he was living on his own unlike these privileged students. Students of color learn very early how they are perceived, both good and bad, and this follows them all the way to boardrooms or prison sentences.

  • C P

    I was busy when I heard the segment but it seemed like Prof Otis’s assertions remained largely unchallenged.
    NPR just another lightweight version of corporate media.

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