A new federal policy means some drug offenders may not face stiff prison sentences.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the change in California Monday, saying low-level non-violent drug offenders could avoid charges that would bring them lengthy mandatory prison sentences and allow judges to use more discretion in deciding their punishment.
"The reasoning is that we want to aggressively prosecute, but we cannot necessarily incarcerate ourselves out of problems," said John Vaudreuil, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin. "We can't necessarily create a safer community here in Wisconsin by simply putting people in prison for longer times."
Judge Greg Mathis, a retired Michigan Superior Court judge who also has a TV show dedicated to arbitration cases, was speaking Tuesday in Madison to the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute on issues with incarceration of young people and preventing a bigger prison population. He addressed the issue in an interview with WISC-TV.
"You must have (judicial) discretion, otherwise you may be wasting the taxpayer money," said Mathis. "You put someone in jail as an easygoing person, and when they come out they are meaner and more violent because they have been exposed to such circumstances in prison.”
Don and Jan Weideman see it differently. Their son Cody died of a heroin overdose just a year ago and they have been fighting for longer mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers.
"We did everything we could to try and save our son but yet a drug dealer got to him the night he died and sold him some drugs," said Don Weideman.
They argue that keeping dealers of any kind off the street is the only way to reduce drugs and crime.
"Jan and I have been working hard to combat drug use and try and save lives," said Weideman. "I don't see how this is going to have a positive effect."
Vaudreuil says while his office goes after people who are violent or have a criminal history or are high-level drug dealers; there are some cases he will be reviewing. Any case where someone has died or been seriously harmed as a result of drug dealing or use will not be eligible for avoiding the mandatory minimums.
"We are not hugging people who are selling drugs," said Vaudreuil. "We are telling them if you're not violent and you're a low-level offender you have a chance. But don't take advantage of it."