Federal Realignment following California’s lead

150 150 Christopher Nelson

Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder released a three page memo and gave a landmark speech to the American Bar Association (ABA) outlining the Obama administration’s dramatic philosophical shift toward drug-related crimes and the types of sentencing they receive.

“Long sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offesnes do not promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation,” Holder wrote in the memo. 

“Moreover, rising prison costs have resulted in reduced spending on criminal justice initiatives, including spending on law enforcement agents, prosecutors, and prevention and intervention programs.”

Holder basically acknowledged that the Federal prison system is overcrowded in large part due to people who weren’t drug dealers or traffickers earning long jail sentences due to how mandatory minimum sentences work.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because California Forward has been steadily beating this drum as the state is closing in on almost two years into a realignment program that in many ways is a model for what the Federal government is just now undertaking.

Through the Partnership for Community Excellence (PCE), we have been constant champions of putting the “lock them up and throw away the key” method of incarceration to bed in favor of evidence-based rehabilitation and programming.

“The timing of Attorney General Holders’ comments couldn’t be better to those of us in California who have been working to help implement public safety realignment here in the state,” said Sharon Aungst, Director of the PCE. 

“It is critical we get this right in California so that we keep the public safe and save money. Data driven solutions adopted by local governments are the key to the success of public safety realignment.”

Although it started with a decision from the now-infamous Three Judge Panel, the bold solution implemented by Gov. Jerry Brown was much-maligned at first but now looks to add public safety to the list of arenas in which California has paved the way for other states and even the Federal government.

A Huffington Post article with a sarcastic intro and a graphic showing how the United States is by far the world leader in terms of incarceration rate per 10,000 citizens (we’re at 716 per 10,000, just above the likes of Rwanda, Cuba and Russia).

In his speech, Holder was more forthright in addressing this issue, calling mandatory minimums “draconian” and summing up the administration’s “Smart on Crime” policy:

“The bottom line is that, while the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” Holder said. “To be effective, federal efforts must also focus on prevention and reentry. We must never stop being tough on crime. But we must also be smart and efficient when battling crime and the conditions and the individual choices that breed it.”

Mr. Attorney General, we couldn’t agree more. We have been saying it for a while now.


Christopher Nelson

All stories by: Christopher Nelson