DOJ reversal on drug prosecutions will fuel mass incarceration, undermine public safety

Cheryl Sanders
May 27, 2017

But Sessions said that tougher enforcement could "reverse that trend". "Reversing this directive will exacerbate prison overcrowding, increase spending and jeopardize the safety of staff and prisoners", he said.

West Virginia has also seen the value in a broader approach to drug abuse, said Jim Johnson, the drug control policy director for the city of Huntington. "Drug trafficking is an inherently risky and violent business. You collect it with the barrel of a gun".

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sent a memo to all federal prosecutors instructing them to pursue the "most serious, readily provable offense" for their cases. Those rules limit a judge's discretion and are typically dictated, for example, by the quantity of drugs involved in a crime.

The memo concedes there will be cases in which "good judgment" will warrant a prosecutor's not going for the most serious charges.

We need to remember the past and how mandatory minimum sentencing destroyed our criminal justice system.


The order had been expected from Sessions, a former prosecutor during the height of the USA crack cocaine epidemic, who vowed that combating violence and illegal drugs would be the Justice Department's top priority.

"The data showed that while they brought fewer indictments carrying a mandatory minimum sentence, the prosecutions of high-level drug defendants had risen and that cooperation and plea rates remained effectively the same", Holder said. Holder's 2013 "Smart on Crime" policy initiative was aimed at encouraging shorter sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, thus freeing up resources to pursue more serious and violent criminals.

Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long.

However, Harvey said he doesn't think the move will create a "sea change" in how federal drug cases are handled in Kentucky because most low-level offenders are handled by state prosecutors rather than in federal court.

"As prosecutors, not our job to worry about the prison population".


The number of sentenced prisoners in federal custody fell by 7,981 inmates - or 5% - between the end of 2009 and 2015, according to a January Pew Research Center analysis. I am disturbed at the enthusiasm of the Attorney General and this Administration to reinstate and enforce a policy will have no redeeming aspects on the rehabilitation of the prison population nor will make our communities safer.

It's also a Jeff Sessions vs. most of America thing.

As Sessions' memo puts it, "This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us".

"We favor a different approach which requires changing some of the existing federal laws", Freedom's Chairman Mark Holden said in a statement. "Sessions is leaving little to no room for prosecutors to use their judgement and determine what criminal charges best fit the crime".

Cook has said that the Holder memo "handcuffed prosecutors" and it limited when "enhancements" can be used to increase penalties, an important leverage when dealing with a career offender and getting them to cooperate.


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