Holder Looks for Answers on Overcrowded Prisons

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -

The nation’s top law enforcement officer got a glimpse of the challenges facing ex-offenders attempting to rebuild their lives on Tuesday as he attended an unusual court session, then met with several of them afterward.

Attorney General Eric Holder watched as more than a dozen men on supervised release updated a federal judge on their jobs and personal situations. The proceeding before District Judge Felipe Restrepo in Philadelphia is part of an innovative re-entry initiative designed to give former inmates the support they need to stay out of jail.

“I’ve got to say, this is really heartwarming to see what you all are doing with your lives,” Holder told the participants afterward in open court. “What we’ve seen here today gives me a great deal of hope.”

Holder wants to find solutions to the country’s overburdened jails and high recidivism rates. The nation spent $80 billion on prisons in 2010, and yet federal facilities are still overflowing at 40 percent above capacity, Holder said.

As part of the “Smart On Crime” program that he launched in August, Holder is arguing for scaling back the use of harsh prison sentences for certain crimes and expanding a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, non-violent offenders

His visit to Philadelphia was the first of three to promote pioneering crime-prevention initiatives; he’ll visit St. Louis and Peoria, Ill., on Nov. 14.