US prosecutors told to push for more, harsher punishments

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, pushing back on bi-partisan momentum to reduce the amount of people behind bars, issued a memo to prosecutors, calling on them to push for the "most serious" charges against people, hoping to trigger mandatory minimum drug sentences.

The former federal prosecutor who tried cases during the height of the crack epidemic directed his 5,000-plus assistant US attorneys to zero in on drug traffickers.

"It's no coincidence that the Sessions memo was quietly signed on the same day the President was making major headlines for firing FBI Director Comey because of his investigation of Trump -- this policy is unjust and unwise and can't withstand even minimal public scrutiny", Durbin said.

Advocates quickly criticized the move as a revival of the worst aspects of the drug war, which subjected nonviolent, lower-level offenders to unfairly harsh sentences that disproportionately hurt minority communities. That led to both federal and state prison populations declining in 2014 for the first time since the USA government began tracking the statistics in 1978. "But the social and human costs will be much higher".

Holder's memo to undo certain mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines was one of the few Obama Justice Department policies championed by small government conservatives.

Sessions attributes the need for a change in drug policy to the nation's opioid epidemic and increased violence in big cities. "You collect it with the barrel of a gun", Sessions said.

Summary: Attorney General Sessions has directed prosecutors to follow a new policy that seeks for the maximum sentence for any drug crimes.

The memo concedes there will be cases in which "good judgment" will warrant a prosecutor veering from that rule.

Republican Sen. Michael J. Hough, of Frederick County, said he hadn't read Sessions' order but probably would disagree with him on the use of mandatory minimums.

That should matter. But it appears, alas, that in Jeff Sessions' Justice Department, facts don't get in the way of tough-on-crime posturing. He suggests filing "the most serious, readily provable" charges with include substantial punishment and mandatory minimum sentences.

For years, members of Congress from both parties have been trying to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders and give judges more sentencing discretion. The repeal of those laws led to a drop in recidivism, crime and the prison population, while also kicking off a nationwide movement for more humane drug policy, according to Schneiderman.

These kinds of policies have always failed to curb drug use in the past and have previously led to an epidemic in prison overpopulation. Almost half of those inmates are in custody for drug crimes, records show. "Because millions and millions of people want to do drugs", he said.

Still, some prosecutors felt constrained by the Holder directive and expressed concern that they'd lose plea bargaining leverage - and a key inducement for cooperation - without the ability to more freely pursue harsher punishments.

"They deserve to be un-handcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington", he said.

The Obama policy shift coincided with U.S. Sentencing Commission changes that made tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners eligible for early release, and an Obama administration clemency initiative that freed convicts deemed deserving of a second chance.

"We will enforce the laws passed by Congress pure and simple", he said at an awards ceremony in Washington D.C, adding that prosecutors deserved to be "unhandcuffed and not micro-managed from Washington". If you would like to discuss another topic, look for a relevant article.

  • Annette Adams