Attorney General Eric Holder announces new treatment for non-violent drug offenders



Yesterday, in addition to the court ruling on stop-and-frisk, there was other news with regards to civil rights.  Speaking at a national gathering of the American Bar Association, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he will review the criminal justice system and push for legislation that adjusts the archaic mandatory minimums for drug offenders as well as a directive for all U.S. attorneys to draft charges in non-violent drug offenses and possession cases, that do not trigger mandatory minimum sentences.

As a reader of this site, we all are aware that the criminal justice system and the so-called “war on drugs” in particular has a discriminatory impact on black and brown bodies.  These changes are a continuation of the work that Holder’s Department of Justice started by adjusting the disparity in prison sentences for someone arrested with powdered cocaine versus crack.  The disparity still exists but it’s it is much smaller than before President Obama took office.  Progress will be slow, but progress is progress.


Attorney General Eric Holder continued his push to eliminate the racial disparities in sentencing, announcing on Monday that the Department of Justice will conduct a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system and, specifically, drug sentencing and mandatory minimums.  The Black community is all too familiar with the discriminatory impact of the so-called “war on drugs,” which all too often puts Black and Latino people in prison en masse. Will the attorney general be able to put an end to this? Let’s take a look at what was presented yesterday.

Holder’s “Smart on Crime” report specified five goals: 1) To ensure finite resources are devoted to the most important law enforcement priorities, 2) To promote fairer enforcement of the laws and alleviate disparate impacts of the criminal justice system, 3) To ensure just punishments for low-level, nonviolent convictions, 4) To bolster prevention and reentry efforts to deter crime and reduce recidivism (relapses), and 5) To strengthen protections for vulnerable populations.

Yesterday’s announcement was an executive move that doesn’t need Congressional approval and the hope is that it will encourage Congressional action on mandatory minimums in the near future.

The “war on drugs” has historically operated as a war on Black and Latino bodies, guaranteeing high incarceration rates that impact all aspects of life, from unemployment, to the vicious cycle of poverty, and even voter disenfranchisement in a number of key battleground states, like Florida and Virginia.

The announcement should be met with bipartisan support and only time will tell whether Congress can come to an agreement on anything and pass it.  The system is massive and broken on so many levels, and it’s gradual changes, like the one Holder announced yesterday that will get us moving in the right direction even if the road to equality is seemingly never ending.

Join the Conversation

  • Michelle

    I don’t see this as a feminism issue, and this story seems out of place on this site. I really don’t want lesser sentences for drug-related crimes.

    • Melanie

      What constitutes a feminist issue may vary from person to person, but based on the stories regularly posted on Feministing, it is clear that this particular feminist community includes issues of race, class, immigration, etc. as part of feminism, or at least things that feminists care about. The War on Drugs, like stop-and-frisk, which has also been covered on this site, has disproportionately affected minorities, and Zerlina makes this connection explicitly in the above article: “As a reader of this site, we all are aware that the criminal justice system and the so-called “war on drugs” in particular has a discriminatory impact on black and brown bodies. ” Given Feministing’s focus on the intersectionality of different types of discrimination, it is therefore not out of place, but fitting for the site.

    • Puck

      You only don’t see it as a feminist issue because you don’t know anything about how the War on Drugs affects the lives of women.

      I remember when women were being forced to give birth while shackled in the 90s (more than half of US states still do this today)… when marginalized (read: poor, people of color, etc.) pregnant women women were being drug tested without consent and then incarcerated if they popped positive (oh, yeah… were? still are, according to a NY Daily News report from last year)… when, as of this year year, the most serious offenses of 59.4% of women in federal prisons and 25.1% of women in state prisons were drug crimes… when women are underrepresented in drug treatment (meaning lack of access to help with addiction) based on problem use stats… I’d say the prosecution of drug crimes most certainly is a feminist issue.

      Here’s a good jumping off point, but not nearly comprehensive:
      Also, check out National Advocates for Pregnant Women
      Unfortunately, I can’t include a bunch of links as it would flag the post, but it’s not hard to look this stuff up.

      But, hey, if you still want to police what someone else’s feminism, why don’t you do your own intellectual labor and write about what you feel is important? There’s even a community component of this site and you should feel free to use that to talk about whatever you think ‘real’ feminism is.

    • honeybee

      Having the autonomy to do what you want with your own body is pretty much the #1 principle of feminism.

      Add to that the racial discrimination that drives our drug laws and the extreme waste of resources that could be devoted to other things and it becomes an extremely important feminist issue.

      I suggest you research the subject further and think about the issue rationally. And consider that the US has 25% of all the world’s prisoners despite having less then 5% of it’s population. The US incarcerates people at a higher rate then Russia, China and all the countries in the middle east. Does that sound right to you? It’s all about the prison industrial complex – ie: money for big business.