Jeff Sessions' Tough-on-Crime Approach Faces Bipartisan Pushback

Posted May 16, 2017

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.

Sessions justifies bringing back such vigorous prosecutions because he believes the minor and only very recent uptick in crime portends a return to the national crime wave of the 1980s, which incidentally was also the time of Nancy Reagan's failed zero tolerance anti-drug "Just Say No" campaign, which Sessions loves so well. "We will not be willfully blind to your misconduct", he said. Holder's "Smart on Crime" policy meant to ease overcrowded prisons and facilitate rehabilitation by taking into account each offender's situation in context.

Deal's criminal justice initiatives have transformed Georgia's prison system and turned the state into a national model of how a conservative state can embrace a system of accountability courts and other cost-cutting changes to the corrections system while keeping violent offenders locked up.

The War on Drugs has disproportionately affected young black males. In his directive, Sessions has indicated that he is willing to turn back the clock, spend millions of dollars prosecuting drug offenders, push mandatory minimum sentences, exacerbate racial disparities in the justice system, and swell the nation's federal prison population. "Instead, we should treat our nation's drug epidemic as a health crisis and less as a lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key problem".

The Justice Department has said Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, were involved in the interviews because the Federal Bureau of Investigation director reports to them as attorney general and deputy attorney general. Under Sessions, prosecutors who wish to pursue lesser charges or shorter sentence for low-level offenders will "need to obtain approval for the exception from a USA attorney, assistant attorney general or another supervisor".

With officials more interested in reaching prison quotas than true reform, it's a situation unlikely to see a resolution anytime soon, with critics fearing that more citizens will be herded into the justice system.

"I know that you can not translate all of that from the state level to the federal level", the governor said after a press conference in Savannah.

"The question is: Is the goal of your crime policy to reduce crime and save money? - which we know how to do - or to codify simpleminded slogans and soundbites for political consumption?"

Sessions' call for a return to the over-prosecution of the bad old days is awful but unsurprising, considering the president he works for - you know, the one who inexplicably invoked his perception of present day "American carnage" in his inaugural speech. "If you're trying to bamboozle the public, it does work".

While Congress has not yet succeeded in passing significant sentencing reform (it's always harder to remove bad laws than to pass them), the reaction to Sessions' proclamation is heartening. The policy allowed prosecutors who were filing charging documents to omit the amount of drugs in the case, so that it wouldn't trigger a mandatory-minimum sentence. Mandatory minimum sentences simply don't fit that description.

But Scott is still trying to get his colleagues on Capitol Hill to focus on prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation. He gave his support for more privately owned prisons, and now he needs to provide the "customers" for them.