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Holder to outline new drug offender sentencing proposal

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department plans to change how it prosecutes some non-violent drug offenders, so they would no longer face mandatory minimum prison sentences, in an overhaul of federal prison policy that Attorney General Eric Holder will unveil on Monday.

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Holder will outline the status of a broad, ongoing project intended to improve Justice Department sentencing policies across the country in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco.

"I have mandated a modification of the Justice Department's charging policies so that 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," Holder is expected to say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks provided by the Justice Department.

The United States imprisons a higher percentage of its population than other large countries, largely because of anti-drug laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Holder will also reveal a plan to create a slate of local guidelines to determine if cases should be subject to federal charges.

The attorney general will point to the bipartisan backing of such goals in Congress, where there is "legislation aimed at giving federal judges more discretion in applying mandatory minimums to certain drug offenders."

The bipartisan backing could be important because the Obama administration will need Republican support for any major changes in Congress.

Holder is expected to say that laws like these could save the United States billions of dollars.

The attorney general will also announce an updated plan for considering release for "inmates facing extraordinary or compelling circumstances - and who pose no threat to the public."

(Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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