WASHINGTON (CN) - Attorney General Eric Holder said the Department of Justice supports an amendment to federal sentencing guidelines that would cut the average sentence of drug trafficking crimes by 11 months but keep in place harsher sentences for more serious drug crimes.
Holder spoke at a public hearing before the U.S. Sentencing Commission at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building on Thursday morning to discuss an amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines that would affect the sentences of an estimated 70 percent of offenders.
According to the federal judiciary's newsletter, The Third Branch News, the amendment would reduce by two levels the base offense for various drug quantities in drug trafficking crimes.
"This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges would nonetheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system," Holder said. "And it would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety."
At the hearing, Holder voiced support for the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, to reduce recidivism.
But Holder and the Department of Justice are less enthusiastic about the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act bill, by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., which moved through the Senate Judiciary Committee this month.
Holder said the commission could cut sentencing guidelines for drug traffickers that are consistent with statutory minimums, but "ensure tough penalties for violent criminals, career criminals, or those who used weapons when committing drug crimes."
In a letter to the commission in support of the amendment, the Justice Department noted that America imprisoned more people than any other country in the world. Federal and state governments spent $80 billion on incarceration in 2010.
With continuing budget issues, the Justice Department said current spending levels are "unsustainable."
The commission expects to vote on the changes in April.
In the meantime, the Justice Department will not challenge trial defendants seeking sentences under the new guidelines, Third Branch News reported.