Senate Conservatives Push Back on New DOJ Sentencing Guidelines

Saturday, 13 May, 2017

Sessions' decision to reverse Obama's drug reforms marks a sweeping change in federal policy, and it will be absolutely catastrophic for people of color in America.

Yet Sessions, in a memo to federal prosecutors, defended tough drug sentencing as "moral and just", arguing that it provided consistency within the criminal-justice system. The U.S. has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and many people who are in prison are in so for nonviolent drug offenses. The Sessions memo will re-introduce that tool to the federal justice system, but only in the hands of high-level DOJ officials and only when they've made their reasoning for doing so clear to the relevant court. "Sometimes the most serious offense doesn't really fit the facts".

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".

Jeff Sessions' push for long mandatory minimums will destroy people, families and communities.

The move will mean longer prison sentences and more people in prison, a dramatic reversal from the Obama administration's efforts to lower the number of people in prison.

Tony Papa, Manager of Media and Artist Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a phone interview that harsh sentencing policy was a proven failure. "It doubles your chances of failure".

The policy shift has the potential to result in an increase of prisoners and longer sentences for drug crimes. This was supposed to demonstrate his openness to criminal-justice reform despite his opposition to the actual ongoing effort in Congress. "Reversing this directive will exacerbate prison overcrowding, increase spending and jeopardize the safety of staff and prisoners", he said. And now, after a brief experiment with an alternative approach, Sessions is ensuring that the strategy for fighting the war on drugs will remain unchanged.

"Drug business is big criminal business. You collect it by the barrel of a gun". Holder mandated that when possible, federal prosecutors should avoid charging certain defendants with crimes that would lead to mandatory minimum sentences. Those rules limit a judge's discretion and are typically dictated, for example, by the quantity of drugs involved in a crime.

Some prosecutors are praising Attorney General Jeff Sessions' new policy urging them to charge the most serious crimes against suspects.

But Sessions' memo was exactly what many opponents of mandatory minimum sentences feared ─ and what advocates for the prison prison industry have been waiting for since Trump took office.

Before the memo was published, The New York Times on Tuesday reported "Sessions's directives to United States attorneys would replace guidance issued by [former Attorney General Eric] Holder in 2010, when he told prosecutors not to feel compelled to seek the most serious viable charges in every case".

While the federal sentencing guidelines are advisory - and take into account everything from a defendant's criminal history to cooperation with authorities - some judges have felt handcuffed by mandatory minimums, which provide a statutory sentencing minimum of months below which the judge can not depart.