By Joe Mathieu, WBZ NewsRadio 1030

BOSTON (CBS) –  It represents a big change in mind-set for a country and a system that has become very good at locking people up.

Word Monday that Attorney General Eric Holder will unveil new sentencing guidelines by relaxing minimum sentences for non-violent offenders.

Keeping in mind that more than 1.5 million Americans are locked up – more than 200,000 in federal prisons – the most in any country in the history of mankind. And while the prison population has fallen in the past couple years, the declines have been tiny and due mainly to budget cuts and overcrowding.

Our prison population is still beyond any other in the civilized world thanks in large part to these non-violent criminals. Many of whom were convicted on drug charges – the result of our so-called War on Drugs that began during the Reagan administration.

The overall incarceration rate has gone-up roughly five-fold since then.

The theory behind this move is that we should invest money and resources into reforming people rather than locking them up.

Supporters of the approach say it’s not just out of compassion. It’s also about saving money. It costs about $28,000 a year to keep someone locked-up in a federal prison according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

It cost $80 billion to operate the nation’s prisons and jails in 2010, according to government.

And I would submit that the timing here is noteworthy for Massachusetts in light of the state’s new medical marijuana law which is at odds with federal law.

Without these changes, there could be more people from Massachusetts going to jail even though they never broke a law in our state.

Follow Joe on Twitter @joemathieuwbz


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