US Attorney General proposes dramatic prison reform

MASON CITY, IA - A new prison reform plan proposed by US Attorney General Eric Holder, is calling for major changes in the way first time offenders are prosecuted for drug charges.

In an effort to try to limit the number of inmates to an already crowded prison system, US Attorney General, Eric Holder is proposing a new plan scaling back sentences for first time offenders and those committing nonviolent drug crimes.

While some fear the notion of a more lenient court, others like Mason City Attorney, Joel Yunek say it’s a matter of resources and priorities.

“In the prison system, we’re spending money we don’t have so the question becomes how do you allocate those resources,” asked Yunek.

According to Holder, the US has five percent of the world’s population but incarcerates almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. In 2010, that policy cost taxpayers $80 billion dollars.

For others like Cerro Gordo County Sheriff, Kevin Pals, it’s not as simple as how we can afford the option.

“It’s a very complex question other than just we need to find something else for first time drug offenders. I believe from what the courts see in law enforcement perspective point of view, I think drug dealers and users are getting a very fair shake with society and courts, ” said Pals.

Sheriff Pals also works as head of the North Central Iowa Narcotics Task Force and says what some people fail to ask is how to handle the criminals if they’re not behind bars.

“The people that are being put on federal charges are not just your mom and pop people dealing small amounts of drugs. They’re dealing large amounts of drugs and that’s why they take them federal. I think the thing that society needs to decide is what do we do with these people,” asks Pals.

“We’d like to get to a point where there’s a system that actually works. That actually rehabilitates people, puts them back in society where they can become productive. The present system really doesn’t do that,” said Yunek.

As part of the new proposal, federal prosecutors are urged to allow the state and other local law enforcement to prosecute any offenders on a case-by-case basis.

According to Holder, the opportunity will soon present itself for federal judges to be able to use their own discretion and only reserve the harshest penalties for the worst offenders.

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