U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for reduced prison sentences for some non-violent drug offenders. What could that mean for state and local prosecutions?
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said Pennsylvania's sentencing guidelines are already effective and fair, but he said change on federal level could have a negative impact.
"Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world's population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world's prisoners," Holder said.
Holder said lower level, non-violent drug offenders should get lesser sentences. The move is part of an sentencing guideline overhaul on the federal level.
"Of the more than 216,000 current federal inmates, nearly half are serving time for drug-related crimes," said Holder.
By saving the harshest penalties for the most serious drug offenders, Holder said it will reduce the federal prison population significantly and reign in prison spending.
"We don't really want to see on the federal level you know citizens serving 10, 20 year sentences because they possessed marijuana. And there are a lot of horror stories," Morganelli said.
Morganelli said he agrees there is need for change on the federal level to stop those horror stories, but he said, on the state level, laws have been specifically crafted to target problems on the local level and punish serious drug offenders.
Morganelli said the people sitting in Pennsylvania prisons aren't small time users or dealers. He said they are people who earned their sentences.
Even so, he said talk of more lenient sentences on the federal level feeds the debate for change locally.
"Before Attorney General Holder took this action that has been the trend. We have a lot of liberal minded people who would like to see drugs legalized completely and not even prosecuted at all," said Morganelli.
Morganelli said that will never happen.
Meantime, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is expected to vote on the new federal guidelines in April.
Allentown, PA 18102