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AG Holder: Don't make demographics sentencing factor

We have noted in prior posts Arkansas’ stringent and uncompromising laws regarding drug crimes. Drug charges involving possession and trafficking can result in stiff prison terms and a host of other exacting penalties that can adversely affect a person for a lifetime.

Such results are hardly unique to Arkansas, with drug charges of all types -- even those brought in cases where alleged misconduct is arguably not criminally significant, such as a first-time marijuana possession offense for a nonviolent offender -- bringing harsh consequences for arrested persons in states across the country.

That has long been the result for many thousands of convicted persons across the United States, especially following policies enacted pursuant to the so-called War on Crime and its special focus on drug-related infractions.

As has been widely publicized, calls for sentencing reform have been persistent and clamorous in recent years, as well as prominently highlighted by bipartisan support across political aisles. There is growing recognition that too many people are serving inordinately long prison terms for relatively minor offenses (again, drug offenses being cited most often), and that ameliorative change must ensue.

That was reinforced last week by reports focusing on Attorney General Eric Holder and his strongly stated dislike for factoring in demographic data in sentencing determinations.

Simply stated, such fact-based sentencing can result in disparate sentencing outcomes for two persons charged with the same crime based simply on where they live, their educational level and their employment status.

One U.S. Department of Justice official noted in comments that allowing demographic information to be considered in sentencing decisions can contribute to disparities in the prison system and population.

Among other things, the Obama administration wants to see a drop in the nation’s prison population, and believes that its condemnation of demographics in sentencing matters can promote that goal.

Source: Reuters, "U.S. attorney general to condemn use of demographics in sentencing," Julia Edwards, July 31, 2014

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