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Michael Douglas blasts the US penal system at the Emmys. He's exactly right | Sadhbh Walshe


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There are currently over 500,000 non-violent drug offenders serving time in America's correctional institutions, counting for nearly a quarter of the country's entire prison population. In the federal system, where Douglas('s son, Cameron) is doing his time, over half of all inmates are incarcerated for drug offenses. In just over 30 years, the federal prison population has experienced a ten-fold increase, from around 21,000 in 1980 to over 218,000 today, an unprecedented rise that can be attributed directly to the war on drugs and the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that are its arsenal. Many cash strapped states have had to enact reforms in the recent past and turn to drug treatment alternatives to cope with their unsustainable prison populations. The more affluent federal system has been slower to catch on but at last there is some hope on the horizon.

Last month, speaking to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Attorney General Eric Holder tacitly acknowledged that the situation has gotten out of control and unveiled a number of reforms. Prosecutors now have the discretion not to list the amount of drugs in cases involving low-level, non-violent offenders with no ties to gangs or large scale drug organizations so the indictment won't trigger the attendant mandatory minimum sentence upon conviction. This reform will also apply to offenders who have already been convicted but not yet sentenced. Holder said:

We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken. And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget.

All right, Eric Holder, it's time to get busy fixing this. No time like the present.

So what?  The whole country needs to be breaking bad? 

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