"For years prior to this administration, federal prosecutors were not only encouraged — but required — to always seek the most severe prison sentence possible for all drug cases, no matter the relative risk they posed to public safety. I have made a break from that philosophy," Holder said in remarks delivered at the National Press Club. "While old habits are hard to break, these numbers show that a dramatic shift is underway in the mindset of prosecutors handling nonviolent drug offenses. I believe we have taken steps to institutionalize this fairer, more practical approach such that it will endure for years to come."
Citing statistics from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Holder said of his Smart on Crime initiative, and other reforms between 2013 and 2014, that there has been a 6 percent drop in the number of federal drug trafficking prosecutions, and the number of drug cases in which prosecutors pursued mandatory minimum sentences has dropped from close to 64 percent to about 51 percent — a record low. In addition, more of the government's limited resources can be used to tackle more serious crimes and "provide the greatest possible benefit to public safety."
Holder also provided an update on the federal civil rights investigations into the shooting death of Michael Brown and the Ferguson Police Department on which he was briefed last week.
"I'm satisfied with the progress that we have made and also comfortable in saying that I think I'm going to be able to make those calls before I leave office," he said.
The attorney general was unable to resist taking a jab at U.S. senators who are moving slowly on the confirmation process for Loretta Lynch, the federal prosecutor nominated to replace Holder.
"You would think in some ways that Loretta's process would be sped up, given their desire to see me out of office," he quipped. "But be that as it may, logic has never been necessarily a guide up there."
In recent weeks, both Holder and FBI director Jim Comey have called for better tracking of police use-of-force incidents.
"We have this sense, based on these incidents that get a huge amount of attention, stir the nation — we have a sense that things are amiss. But we don't have a real good sense of what the nature of the problem is both with regard to the force the police are using and the kinds of violence that is directed at the police," Holder explained.
Gathering information on all of the circumstances surrounding the use of force, including any force being directed against law enforcement officers, can be used to create policy. It also should be a requirement for state and local governments seeking federal grants to share such data with the federal government, he said, which will provide "a much better sense of what the problem looks like in our country and then base policy based on the empirical evidence."
Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.
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