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Holder looks to soften drug-related sentences

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WASHINGTON (AP) — With the U.S. facing massive overcrowding in its prisons, Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for major changes to the nation's criminal justice system that would scale back the use of harsh sentences for certain drug-related crimes.

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

"We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate — not merely to convict, warehouse and forget," Holder says in the speech he's scheduled to deliver Monday.

In one important change, the attorney general is altering Justice Department policy so that low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels won't be charged with offenses that impose mandatory minimum sentences.

Mandatory minimum prison sentences, a product of the government's war on drugs that began in the 1980s, limit the discretion of judges to impose shorter prison sentences.


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