Judges React to Proposed Lighter Drug Sentencing

Reported by: Bill Mitchell

Edited by: Ashley Henderson
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Updated: 8/12/2013 8:00 pm
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WDEF)-- Are there too many people doing hard time for drug offenses?
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder thinks so, and is proposing lesser sentences in federal court for some drug-related crimes.
But such a move, while welcomed by some local judges, may have a ripple effect in state courts.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL "We need to insure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and to rehabilitate. But not really to warehouse and forget".

Eric Holder's goal is for judges to hand-down lesser sentences for certain drug-related crimes in the Federal court system, and send more people to drug treatment programs.
Hamilton county Judge Rebecca Stern runs a drug court which is already doing that, for hundreds of people who would have been in jail or prison in years past.

JUDGE REBECCA STERN, JUDGE OF THE DRUG COURT "We know from dealing with our local drug court that it works, in that its highly successful for most people who go through the drug court program..there's always gonna be people that nothing is going to work."

The federal court system usually hands-down harsher sentences for drug crimes, especially trafficking.
What would happen if federal prosecutors are urged to ease up?

JUDGE GARY STARNES "What its going to do if you change that, if you are not going to prosecute certain ones, or what ever...all those people are going to wind up back in the state system."

CADAS, the council for drug abuse and alcohol services, deals with hundreds of clients every year...working with the courts to put people into treatment instead of jails.

PAUL FUCHCAR, EXEC. DIR., CADAS "My first thought with Eric Holder's Smart on Crime initiative, was it sounded like it was going to place the emphasis on where it needed to be..the people who need to be in jail continue to be in jail."

The federal prison system, like most state prisons, is over-crowded.
A change in sentencing rules could impact both.

Holder also proposes to ask congress to change the rules to allow the release of some elderly, nonviolent drug offenders from the Federal prison system.

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