Changes coming in way low level federal drug offenders are charged

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than $80 billion was spent in 2010 on the federal, state and local levels to put criminals behind bars.

"Wide spread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday.

Holder added he is instituting a mandate which he believes will keep the low-level nonviolent drug offender from taking up spaces in prisons as part of mandatory sentences.

"They now will be charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited for their individual conduct rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins," said Holder.

John Gray is a lifelong Baton Rouge resident and says he agrees with Holder and thinks tweaking the current system is not a bad idea.

"I think it's worth taking a second look at the policy of having mandatory minimums carried out," said Gray.

Some of these federal criminals make their way to local facilities like the East Baton Rouge Prison where according to the sheriff's office, five are currently locked up.  Many who come in contact with these offenders agree with Holder's take and believe the best solution is addressing the problem and not the result.

"Instead of long-term incarceration hopefully what we can find is a way for them to address the problem, beat the problem and then reintegrate them into society and make them a productive member," said Baton Rouge defense attorney Carson Marcantel.

Marcantel adds the change will allow judges and courts to handle drug offenders on a case-by-case basis and avoid lumping them in with more hardened criminals.

"Hopefully more offenders will be diverted into drug treatment as opposed to long term incarceration which is going to affect the tax payer's bottom line," said Marcantel.

That approach makes sense with Gray as well.

"We might not see these people again but they're still eating up tax dollars by keeping them locked up and it's really not solving the root problems," said Gray.

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