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Justice Department to make it easier to grant clemency for nonviolent drug offenders

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department will widen the criteria it uses to decide which drug offenders to recommend to the president for clemency, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday.

The department expects thousands of drug offenders currently serving time to be eligible for reduced sentences under the new clemency guidelines and it will prepare to review an influx of applications, Holder said in a video address.

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Under U.S. law, the president can reduce sentences or pardon Americans serving sentences for federal crimes. The Justice Department will now recommend more candidates for the president’s consideration.

Details of the new criteria will be announced later this week by Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

Holder hinted the guidelines may include applying a 2010 law that reduced sentences for crack cocaine offenders to those sentenced before the law was enacted.

“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime – and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime,” Holder said in his address.

Granting clemency to nonviolent drug offenders is part of the Obama administration’s strategy to reduce spending on federal prisons by reducing the number of inmates serving time for nonviolent drug crimes.

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Last year, Holder launched the “Smart on Crime” initiative to review the criminal justice system and look for ways to make spending on prisons more efficient by focusing on violent offenders.

Some Republicans in Congress say more lenient sentences would reverse the drop in crime the United States has seen over recent decades.

In 2010, nearly half of 216,000 federal inmates were serving time for drug-related crimes, data from the Department of Justice shows.

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(Reporting By Julia Edwards; Editing by Doina Chiacu)


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No vaccine, no carnival, Rio’s samba schools warn

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Some of Rio's biggest samba schools say they will not participate in next year's Carnival unless a coronavirus vaccine is widely available, Brazilian media reported Tuesday.

Five of the 12 top samba schools, including Mangueira and Beija Flor, told Brazil's O Globo newspaper they would vote to postpone the parades at a meeting set for Tuesday.

"It's simple. If there's no vaccine, there will be no samba," said the head of the Sao Clemente school, Renatinho Gomes.

"How can you gather crowds without collective immunity?"

The mayor of the northwestern city of Salvador de Bahia, where festivities also attract thousands of tourists, has proposed postponing the carnival season nationwide until April or June.

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New York couple point guns at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their house

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A New York couple pointed guns at protesters marching past their house during a Black Lives Matter rally, and activists want them to be charged.

Protesters were nearing the end of their parade route when a white man came out of his home shouting obscenities in an apparent attempt to incite the group, and then yelled to his wife to get his gun, reported WNYT-TV.

Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson, who took part in the march, said the woman came back outside and started waving the gun around.

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Australian columnist aghast at America’s ‘rotten’ COVID-19 response: ‘We are witnessing the fall of a great power’

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A columnist for an Australian newspaper has been watching the United States' response to the novel coronavirus with a mix of shock and horror -- and he now believes "we are witnessing the fall of a great power."

Crispin Hull, an editor and columnist for The Canberra Times, argues in his latest column that President Donald Trump's disastrous handling of the pandemic is symbolic of deep rot within the American political system.

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