Attorney General Jeff Sessions just reminded the country that he wants the failed War on Drugs to be the centerpiece of his Justice Department policy.
Under Holder, prosecutors were directed not to include drug quantity amounts in criminal charges in some cases if it would trigger mandatory minimum sentences – that policy was rescinded in Sessions’ directive. In some cases, mandatory minimum and recidivist enhancements statutes have resulted in unduly harsh sentences and perceived or actual disparities that do not reflect our Principles of Federal Prosecution.
Holder had asked prosecutors to avoid slapping nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that carried mandatory minimum sentences, practices that, as NPR’s Tamara Keith explains, “give judges and prosecutors little discretion over the length of a prison term if a suspect is convicted”.
He also maintained that there more effective ways to assist low level offenders who pose no threat to the public other than incarceration.
When President Trump came into office and appointed Jeff Sessions, drug war activists feared that he would take away the tremendous progress that was gained under the Obama administration. “Is the attorney general saying this in drug cases, but not in white collar cases?”
“In recent years the Department of Justice had achieved a substantial population reduction in its overcrowded prison system”, Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, said in a statement.
Do you think all drug offenders should be treated the same? We need criminal justice reform that is geared towards making communities safer and reducing our imprisoned populations instead of rolling back improvements we’ve made.
“This policy is simply common sense and will help reduce crimes and drugs in our neighborhoods”, he said in a statement.
Officials say Holder’s “Smart on Crime” policy “convoluted the process”, and left prosecutors applying the law unevenly, which they said “is not Justice”. The view is increasingly at odds with the views of voters across the political spectrum.
Citing overcrowding in prisons and overspending by taxpayers, Holder had announced the policy change claiming that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason”.
The move by Sessions however, is not something authorities didn’t preempt – since Sessions has declared in every major speech since being confirmed as attorney general, that public safety and violent crime are intertwined – and his top priorities.
“We know drugs and crime go hand in hand”, Sessions said.
The goal of the Holder Doctrine was to cease harsh penalties for low-level drug criminals. “You collect it with the barrel of a gun”.
If that language sounds familiar, it’s because Ronald Reagan said something eerily similar in 1988, when numerous current mandatory minimums were put on the books.
“Decades of experience shows we can not arrest and incarcerate our way out of America’s drug problem”, Brett Tolman, the former U.S. attorney of Utah, said in a statement.
Almost 30 years later, there’s still ample supply and booming demand for drugs.
Critics of the shift say it will revive the worst aspects of the drug war.