What You Need To Know About Holder's Drug Sentencing Proposal and the State of America's Prison Population

Attorney general urges U.S. Sentencing Commission to back reduced sentences for some drug offenders


What you need to know about drug sentencing reform today, 3/13/2014:

Today Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed a proposal that he says will reduce the federal prison population by at least 6,500 in five years. According to CNN, the U.S. Sentencing Commission may vote on the proposal in April.

According to the Justice Department, the proposed plans will affect 70 percent of drug offenders currently in the criminal justice system, and will reduce sentences by an average of 11 months.

Holder's endorsement today is not the first time that he has advocated for drug sentencing reforms. Last August, Holder announced that the Department of Justice would not pursue mandatory minimums for some non-violent drug offenders.  

The state of America's prison population:

The United States, which makes up roughly 5 percent of the world's population, houses about 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

The federal prison system currently has around 216,000 prisoners, a little more than 40 percent of whom are behind bars for drug offences.

The chart below, from the Prison Policy Initiative, breaks down just where American prisoners are locked up, and the various crimes with which they're charged..

As appalling as the U.S. prison population and drug policies are, the prison population in the U.S. has been falling since 2009, as The New York Times explains:

The nation's prison population peaked in 2009 at more than 1.6 million inmates. Since then, as state budgets have tightened and crime has hit record low levels, that number has declined each year.

Public attitudes have also changed. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal marijuana, and Colorado and Washington have legalized it for recreational purposes.

A chart from The American Prospect based on data from the the Bureau of Justice Statistics illustrating this decline is below:

Read more from Reason on sentencing here