WATERVILLE — Former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates addressed a packed house in Colby College’s Page Commons on Wednesday night, outlining needed reforms to the nation’s criminal justice system.

Yates, who was introduced by her son Quill, a Colby student, spoke for roughly 30 minutes, focusing on the country’s incarceration rate and prison systems.

Yates said while the United States has just 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. She said in the 1980s, federal and state policies that involved mandatory minimum sentences, often for drug offenses, resulted in massive over-incarceration.

“This resulted in an explosion in the prison population,” said Yates, who served in the Justice Department for more than 27 years.

Prison overpopulation now has reached the point that prison costs now make up one-third of the Department of Justice’s budget, leaving less funding for other programs, she said.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the lack of resources for rehabilitation programs.

“We need to make sure inmates have tools to be successful when they are released from prison,” she said, adding that it needs to be a grass-roots effort.

Yates, 56, did not address her involvement in publicizing former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia or being fired by the Trump administration after she ordered the Justice Department to not defend the president’s first executive order banning immigrants from certain predominantly Muslim-based countries.

Yates, a Democrat, is expected to testify Monday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

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