Valley authorities respond to Holder's new drug offender policy

FRESNO, Calif.

Under Holder's plan, Federal Prosecutors will no longer seek mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenders.

Speaking before the American Bar Association meeting in San Francisco on Monday Holder said, "We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate but not merely to warehouse and to forget."

Holder's goal is to reduce the length of prison sentences given to low level drug offenders by changing the way Federal prosecutors file the cases. Under Holder's plan letting Federal judges would regain discretion in deciding the appropriate sentence for each individual.

Retired Fresno Federal District Court Judge Oliver Wanger says the new approach has merit.

"We're talking about first time offenders. We're talking about youthful offenders, we're also talking about the elderly non-threatening individuals who are serving sentences and taking prison space," Wanger said.

Wanger added, "I think judges welcome that. I don't think there's any judge who sentenced under the guidelines when they were mandatory, totally mandatory without any discretion, you sent young low level offenders for eight and ten years, sometimes ten times the sentence they would receive in state court simply because it was a federal offense."

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer says he's been assured the changes will only apply to low level offenders.

"Anytime you reduce sentencing guidelines or mandatory sentences there is a potential you are going to have an impact in terms of increased crime. However, based on what I've seen thus far it as it pertains to how we present cases to the U.S. Attorney's office, I don't think there's going to be much of an impact," Dyer said.

But Dyer says there needs to be aggressive alternatives to prison for drug addicts.

"If those things are in place and I'm talking about low level drug offenders then there is some potential for good to come from this," Dyer said.

Holder says current incarceration rates in local, state and federal jails and prisons are unsustainable, too expensive and unfair, especially to minority communities.

"Our system in too many ways is broken," Holder said.

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