Mom finds hope for imprisoned son after AG eases drug sentencing - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Mom finds hope for imprisoned son after Holder eases drug sentencing

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The nation's top cop called for some major changes in federal drug sentencing laws to combat the problem of overcrowded prisons Monday.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced what he's calling a "smart on crime" strategy for dealing with drug offenders.

"...certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences," Holders said.

The change is a major policy shift from the 1980's war on drugs and it is welcome news for those who have been fighting against harsh penalties for nonviolent offenders.

It's a joy that is probably shared in many homes around the Chicago area where a young man caught up in drugs got handed a prison sentence that did not seem to fit the crime, but was required by the law.

One Chicago mother, who has been crusading against mandatory minimums after what happened to her son, is smiling and full of hope.

"I've been like floating today, I mean it's been quite an emotional day for me in the best kind of way," Barbara Bates says.

Barbara Bates calls this one of the best days in the last four and a half years for her. That's how long it's been since her son Kristopher was sentenced to prison for 19 years on drug charges.

He's currently serving time in the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and crack cocaine after two prior marijuana possession convictions.

"If I had to just pick numbers for the crime that he did, I think anywhere from three to five years would have been appropriate," Bates says.

Bates doesn't excuse what her son did, but she--like many others--believe sending nonviolent drug offenders to prison for long periods of time is not the right way to deal with those crimes.

John Maki, with the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, sees the potential for the Attorney General's announcement to trickle down to the states.

"Essentially what he's calling for is not simply a change in policy for a certain number of offenders, he's calling for a change in philosophy," Maki explains.

A change that seeks more to treat people with drug addictions and not just lock them up, which has led to overcrowded prisons nationwide.

"It's a call to other prosecutors to other law enforcement, saying we need a new way of doing business, this model we have does not work, it's expensive, it undermines the most important purpose of a prison which is to incapacity a violent risk to public safety," Maki continues.

For Barbara Bates it means hope that her son's sentence might be greatly reduced.

"I'm just happy to know that one day really soon, I'll be touching him outside of those bars," she says.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports the plan and said fairer sentencing guidelines must be coupled with what he called "consistent and meaningful punishment" for violent offenders.

And while Holder's proposal received widespread support, several members of congress said any changing of the law should be done by Congress and the President.

At least in the short term, the federal policy change will have no impact on defendants sentenced for state crimes.

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