WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder is set to announce Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder will reveal in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco. He is also expected to introduce a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.

Justice Department lawyers have worked for months on the proposals, which Holder wants to make the cornerstone of the rest of his tenure.

“A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities,” Holder plans to say Monday, according to excerpts of his remarks that were provided to The Washington Post. “However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem rather than alleviate it.”

Holder is calling for a change in Justice Department policies to reserve the most severe penalties for drug offenses for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. He has directed his 94 U.S. attorneys across the country to develop specific, locally tailored guidelines for determining whether federal charges should be filed.

Some of Holder’s other initiatives will require legislative change. Holder is urging passage of legislation with bipartisan support that is aimed at giving federal judges more discretion in applying mandatory minimum sentences to certain drug offenses.

“Such legislation will ultimately save our country billions of dollars,” Holder said of a bill backed by Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky.

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable.”

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