Not crazy about the implementation of it, however:
In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration will move on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, is expected to announce the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks.
Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder is planning to justify his policy push in both moral and economic terms.
“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech says. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”
I agree that we have some Draconian drug laws, but use the normal channels in changing policy, don't do it by fiat. Using Executive Orders to get your way, and bypass Congress isn't good policy, especially on something as cut and dried as this. It also opens the door to shenanigans, as evidenced by the new criteria:
Under a policy memorandum being sent to all United States attorney offices on Monday, according to an administration official, prosecutors will be told that they may not write the specific quantity of drugs when drafting indictments for drug defendants who meet the following four criteria: their conduct did not involve violence, the use of a weapon or sales to minors; they are not leaders of a criminal organization; they have no significant ties to large-scale gangs or cartels; and they have no significant criminal history.
For example, in the case of a defendant accused of conspiring to sell five kilograms of cocaine — an amount that would set off a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence — the prosecutor would write that “the defendant conspired to distribute cocaine” without saying how much. The quantity would still factor in when prosecutors and judges consult sentencing guidelines, but depending on the circumstances, the result could be a sentence of less than the 10 years called for by the mandatory minimum law, the official said.
The ability of a local prosecutor to make their own judgements also opens the door to discrimination and variety between prosecutors. What is the definition of violence? Is a threat to "beat your ass" violence, or frees speech? Who determines the "leadership" of a drug cartel? What defines "large scale"? What is "significant" in regards to someone's criminal history? Is it based on number of connections to the justice system, or the severity of the offense?
One of the nice things about "zero tolerance", is that there is no room for mitigating circumstances. Do the crime, do the time.
While I feel this new move by the Administration will free up the prisons, there will still be challenges within the system. Again, I applaud the move, but dislike the process in which it is being implemented.