The Obama administration has unveiled major changes to the criminal justice system, dropping mandatory minimum sentences in certain drug cases.
Such terms will not be imposed for non-violent drug offenders with no gang or cartel ties, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech.
The US has one of the world's biggest prison populations, despite a 40-year-low in the country's crime rates.
Critics say that heavy drug sentences have hit minorities hardest.
"We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate - not merely to convict, warehouse and forget," Mr Holder said in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco on Monday.
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