Jeff Sessions Escalates Drug War and Urges Prosecutors to Seek Harsh Sentencing

Sessions announced the move in a policy memo sent to USA attorneys. "Congress can reverse these actions by enacting the criminal justice reform measures that were being considered as late as a year ago and that had the support of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives".

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the USA incarcerates more people per capita than any other country in the world. Advocates of justice reform say that the nation's opioid crisis is evidence that tough policies of the past have failed. "So we are returning to the enforcement of the law as passed by Congress - plain and simple".

"Coretta Scott King feared that the confirmation of Jeff Sessions would have a "devastating effect on the judicial system", and with this recent guidance to federal prosecutors, that fear has been realized".

There are now around 190,000 in federal prison, with about half of the population in prison for drug crimes. "They deserve to be unhandcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington", Sessions said.

"First, it is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense".

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, said in a statement that Sessions is trying to revive the "war on drugs", which she said "treated drugs, addiction and substance abuse as a crime instead of as a public health issue".

The requirements "place great confidence in our prosecutors and supervisors to apply them in a thoughtful and disciplined manner, with the goal of achieving just and consistent results in federal cases", the memo states. These charges were only pursued with defendants who were members of "a large-scale drug trafficking organization, gang or cartel", according to The Washington Post.

This rolls back the 2013 directive from former AG Eric Holder, known as the Holder Memo, which advised federal prosecutors to use their discretion when building a case against non-violent drug offenders, as a way to reserve harsh mandatory minimum sentences only for violent or high-level drug crimes.

"It looks like we're going to fill the prisons back up after finally getting the federal prison population down", said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

"The Trump administration is returning to archaic and deeply-flawed policies", Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center's Justice Program, said in a statement.

The Sentencing Project also condemned the move saying, "Attorney General Sessions' decision to end the Smart On Crime initiative, despite warnings of the impact of reinvigorating the war on drugs from criminologists, will again fill federal prisons with people convicted of low-level drug offenses serving excessive sentences".

Holden argued that communities and law enforcement "are safer when the punishment fits the crime through sentencing reforms".

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.

  • Larry Hoffman