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U.S. attorney general to condemn use of demographics in sentencing

By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One year into his effort to lower prison sentences for nonviolent criminals, Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday will condemn states that consider demographic data before determining sentencing for convicted individuals, according to Justice Department officials.

Factors such as education level, neighborhood and employment status are increasingly used by states to determine the risk level a convicted person will pose upon release. A bill introduced by Senator John Cornyn, a Republican of Texas, attempts to bring the same practice into federal courts.

Holder will argue in a speech to criminal defense lawyers and in a report to the U.S. Sentencing Commission that two people who commit the same crime should not serve unequal time based on those factors alone.

Holder's "Smart on Crime" initiative launched last year with the goal of reining in spending on prisons and abolishing what Holder sees as racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

"There is concern over these data-based approaches to sentencing. Because while they do share the goal of reducing the prison population, they could contribute to the very disparities in that prison population that the attorney general's initiative was also meant to address," a Justice Department official said.

Speaking at a county correctional facility in Maryland on Monday, Holder told reporters that any executive changes or recommendations on sentencing reform made by the Obama administration will "need the support of Congress to make sure that they will last beyond this administration."

Pending legislation in Congress that would ban the use of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders has support from members of both political parties, but it is unlikely to pass before November's midterm elections.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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