Sessions Reinforces Mandatory Minimums in War on Drugs

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2015 report from the Reason Foundation, libertarian nonprofit, “the High Cost of Incarceration in Florida, Recommendations for Reform.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors to seek maximum penalties onlow level offenses, per a memo issued by the Department of Justice on Friday. The new guidelines on Department Charging and Sentencing policy state:

First, it is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense. This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency. This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences…

Second, prosecutors must disclose to the sentencing court all facts that impact the sentencing guidelines or mandatory minimum sentences, and should in all cases seek a reasonable sentence…

The move by Sessions rolls back 2013 guidelines issued by Eric Holder that gave federal prosecutors room to avoid charges against low level drug offenders that could lead to long term mandatory minimum sentencing.

Senator Rand Paul called the order a backslide for criminal justice reform, and an oppressive tool in an op-ed for CNN:

Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated a generation of minorities. Eric Holder, the attorney general under President Obama, issued guidelines to U.S. Attorneys that they should refrain from seeking long sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

I agreed with him then and still do. In fact, I'm the author of a bipartisan bill with Senator Leahy to change the law on this matter. Until we pass that bill, though, the discretion on enforcement -- and the lives of many young drug offenders -- lies with the current attorney general

The attorney general's new guidelines, a reversal of a policy that was working, will accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system. We should be treating our nation's drug epidemic for what it is -- a public health crisis, not an excuse to send people to prison and turn a mistake into a tragedy. And make no mistake, the lives of many drug offenders are ruined the day they receive that long sentence the attorney general wants them to have.

Criminal justice policy reformers argue that the “War on Drugs” weakens families and communities, and is a drain on taxes and tax payers.  

“When Sessions says, ‘war on drugs’ he means ‘war on people’ Stacey Long Simmons of the LGBTQ Task Force said in statement. “To the contrary, they devastate communities, increase the number of people who are locked away from their families; place vulnerable children and other dependents in jeopardy; and pad the pockets of investors of the private prison industry. We urge the public to contact the Justice Department and tell Sessions stop this war on people,” Simmons is Director of the Department of Advocacy and Action for the Task Force.


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