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Opening Arguments

Common sense isn't mandatory

It had to happen eventually -- I actually agree with Eric Holder on something:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to announce Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder will reveal in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, according to senior department officials. He is also expected to introduce a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.

Holder is calling for a change in Justice Department policies to reserve the most severe penalties for drug offenses for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. He has directed his 94 U.S. attorneys across the country to develop specific, locally tailored guidelines for determining when federal charges should be filed and when they should not.

He justifies the change with a lot of the usual liberal claptrap about a "vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration," but that doesn't invalidate the basic common sense of the proposal. Having mandatory sentences that allow no judicial discretion at all is just a stupid policy, and the idea of reserving the harshest penalties for the worst offenders shouldn't even need defending. Mandatory sentencing laws have allowed legislators to be seem tough on crime, but then they won't spend the money for the increased prison space such a policy inevitably requires.