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Editorial: Changes needed in sentencing policies

After more than three decades of mandatory minimum sentencing, the U.S. Justice Department has now proposed easing that get-tough policy on non-violent drug offenders and to allowing prosecutors more latitude.

A wide-ranging coalition of lawmakers and civil rights advocates are now supporting the Justice Department's call for revising the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

It was time Monday when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal prosecutors would no longer invoke the mandatory sentencing laws.

However, it is not a sign that the Justice Department is going soft on drug crime.

The reality is that mandatory minimum sentencing in non-violent drug crime has become unsustainable from a cost standpoint. The cost of inmate incarceration is growing at both the federal and state levels through the country.

The get-tough campaign of the early 1980s created the mandatory minimum sentencing. That resulted in the federal prison system population exploding more than 800 percent, growing from 25,000 inmates in 1980 to nearly 220,000 today.

A number of advocates have also raised concerns about federal sentencing disparities, like black offenders receiving 20 percent longer sentences than whites sentenced for the same crime, according to USA Today. Holder has called for a federal review of such sentencing.

The Obama administration and Congress should work together to review and adjust the sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders and embrace treatment alternatives where possible.

The burden of a growing and aging prison population will only increase in the coming years unless we start making appropriate changes.