WASHINGTON (AP) - Attorney General Michael Mukasey wants Congress to act within weeks to prevent the release of thousands of violent criminals from federal prison under new crack cocaine sentencing rules.
In testimony prepared for a House hearing Thursday, Mukasey indicates a willingness to go along with new sentencing guidelines that reduce federal prison time for crack cocaine convicts - but only for first-time, nonviolent offenders.
New U.S. Sentencing Commission rules taking effect in less than a month would let nearly 20,000 federal inmates seek reductions in their crack cocaine sentences.
It's unclear, if not unlikely, that Congress would act before the rules take effect.
Mukasey, who is to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, said releasing all the inmates eligible under the Sentencing Commission's guidelines could increase violent crime in communities and clog up courts.
The Justice Department estimates that two-thirds of federal inmates serving time for crack cocaine also have violent criminal histories or gun charges in their pasts.
"We think it is imperative for Congress to pass legislation to address the Sentencing Commission's decision," Mukasey wrote to the House committee.
"I emphasize that we are not asking this committee to prolong the sentences of those offenders who pose the least threat to their communities, such as first-time, nonviolent offenders," Mukasey wrote.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)