Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday that he has told prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against criminal suspects - a stunning reversal of Obama-era policies, and a move that infuriated civil rights groups.
Sessions's new memo instructs prosecutors to go in the exact opposite direction and charge even low-level offenders with the most severe penalties possible. He cited the country's opioid addiction and rising murder rates in cities such as Chicago and Memphis, Tennessee.
"We know that drugs and crime go hand-in-hand", Sessions said in a Friday speech. In February, Sessions seemed to prepare for that inevitability, reversing a directive from previous deputy attorney general Sally Yates for the Justice Department to stop using private prisons to house federal inmates.
The Harvard Journal on Legislation critiqued the Holder memo as an "expansion of executive", essentially scrutinizing the method used to impose the policy (i.e. without the help of Congress). His policy, coined "smart on crime", directed prosecutors to not report the amount of drugs seized in an arrest if it would trigger mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders with no ties to gangs or drug cartels or selling to children.
The Justice Department's own data revealed just past year that, since I implemented Smart on Crime policies in 2013, prosecutors have used the discretion I gave them to focus on more serious drug cases. "These are drug dealers, and you drug dealers are going to prison".
"It failed for 40 years, and from the halls of state legislatures to the ballot box, the American people have said with a clear voice that they want commonsense reforms to sentencing policy", Ofer said in a statement.More news: Israel was source of intel Trump shared with Russians
"We favor a different approach which requires changing some of the existing federal laws", Freedom Partners Chairman Mark Holden said in a statement.
This is the latest in a series of measures that demonstrate the intent of the Trump Administration to ramp up the drug war.
"There was a real momentum for a time, and I think it's safe to say it's dead now, toward a broader criminal justice reform effort, and that was a bipartisan effort", Harvey said.
But Sessions argued that this led to inconsistencies across the country in the way that drug offenders were charged, and that it decreased prosecutors' leverage during plea bargaining.
A series of studies published by economists at Columbia and the University of MI in 2007 found that the threat of longer prison sentences did not deter crime. Both states saw a double digit percentage increase in the overdose death rate between 2014 and 2015.
"Attorney General Sessions" new policy will accentuate that injustice", Paul said in a statement. "At the end of the day this [memo] is just another step in the sequence of steps that the AG has further taken to position himself in the "80s-style rhetoric of 'Just Say No" and the '70s-style rhetoric of 'The War On Drugs'".