The US Justice Department will no longer press mandatory minimum sentences against many low-level drug crime offenders, according to reports.
Attorney General Eric Holder was set to announce the decision on Monday.
“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason,” Holder planned to tell an American Bar Association meeting in San Francisco, according to prepared remarks.
“While the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” he will say.
The decision is a major shift in the incarceration policy aimed at turning around decades of explosive growth in the federal prison population. Under the new policy, federal prosecutors would send fewer non-violent drug offenders to federal prison for long terms and send more of them to drug treatment and community service.
It is not clear how many future prosecutions would be affected, LA Times said, citing a Justice Department spokesman.
Holder hopes legislation will gain bipartisan support in Congress. “Such legislation will ultimately save our country billions of dollars,” Holder said of legislation supported by Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“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.”
Since 1980, the US population has increased by about a third but the prison population has grown by nearly 800 percent. Federal jails are now operating at some 40 percent over capacity, according to the Justice Department.
In 2010, incarceration cost the US government $80 billion, Justice Department officials said.