- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2013

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. got it right when he called this week for a major shift away from harsh minimum sentences for certain drug crimes in an attempt to cut down an inflating federal prison population.

“In fact, if you lumped every American who is in prison — all 2.3 million — together into one city, it would rank just above Houston, Texas as the fourth largest in the United States,” Mr. Gingrich, who served as speaker in the late 1990s, wrote in a posting on his Gingrich Productions website. “It would be larger than the populations of San Francisco, Boston, Denver, and Orlando combined.”

The federal prison system is operating at nearly 40 percent overcapacity, according to the Justice Department, costing taxpayers as much as $800 billion a year. Officials attribute that in part to sentencing guidelines for drug offenses, including marijuana, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which mandated the same minimum sentencing for possession of five grams of crack cocaine as for possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine.

“According to the Pew Center on the States, one in every 31 people in the U.S. is under correctional supervision, either in prison, on parole, or on probation,” Mr. Gingrich wrote. “The human cost is terrible. This is especially true in the African American community.”

“The United States stands above all for freedom, and yet we have by far the highest rate of incarceration in the world,” he concluded. “That’s why we should do everything we can, including sensible prison reform, to help more Americans learn to live in freedom. It is good to see Attorney General Holder take a step in this direction.”

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