(Chicago) – Chicago’s top elected officials and TASC today hailed the Justice Department’s decision to abandon charging certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory prison sentences.
At a speech in San Francisco on Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said accused individuals would be “charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins.”
In the Chicago, the reaction to Holder’s announcement was swift and positive.
“I commend President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for reforming the policy that imposes severe mandatory sentences on nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to gangs or organized crimes,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement. “Non-violent drug offenders are often better served by treatment and other options, freeing up law enforcement to focus their time and efforts on preventing violent crimes.”
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also welcomed Holder’s decision, while noting that people of color are hit hardest by punitive drug laws. Preckwinkle also urged the State of Illinois to follow suit.
“The mandatory minimum sentence policy has led to severe overcrowding in our prison system and swelled taxpayer spending on incarceration and detention. These laws also disproportionately affect people of color,” said Preckwinkle in a statement. “It is my hope that this major shift in federal policy will make its way to the state and local government level as we strive to take a more effective and humane approach to criminal justice and crime prevention.”
TASC President Pamela Rodriguez echoed Emanuel and Preckwinkle’s sentiments.
“The Justice Department decision is a welcome and needed step in reforming our country’s criminal justice system,” said Rodriguez. “The decision recognizes the reality of criminal justice research that imprisoning non-violent drug offenders does little to nothing to blunt serious drug crime, but serves primarily to bleed taxpayers and communities of potentially productive citizens.”
Holder’s announcement comes on the heels on a batch of Illinois criminal justice reforms signed by Governor Pat Quinn on August 3 that include helping individuals sentenced for non-violent crimes to reenter the job market more easily.