Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent out a memo Thursday to all 93 federal prosecutors, overhauling Obama-era soft-sentencing guidelines. He calls for prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” for those convicted of breaking the law.
“This is a key part of President Trump’s promise to keep America safe,” Sessions said. “We’re seeing an increase in violent crime in our cities – in Baltimore, Chicago, Memphis, Milwaukee, St. Louis and many others. The murder rate has surged 10 percent nationwide – the largest increase since 1968.”
The new guidelines will reintroduce the practice of mandatory minimum sentences, reversing previous Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative. Holder’s policy focused on non-incarceration of low-level, nonviolent drug offenses which led to uneven prosecution and “not justice,” according to DOJ officials. Holder also allowed prosecutors leeway in prison sentencing, leading to uneven prosecution. But this was also largely credited for the decline in the prison population in recent years.
Now, under this new guideline, minimum sentencing is mandatory and if a prosecutor wants to override it, they must get approval from a U.S. Attorney’s office. In a two-page memo, Sessions laid out not only the policy but also briefing prosecutors on making allowances for deviance.
“There will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of the above charging policy is not warranted,” the memo reads. “ In that case, prosecutors should carefully consider whether an exception may be justified. Consistent with longstanding Department of Justice policy, any decision to vary from the policy must be approved by a United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General, or a supervisor designated by the United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General, and the reasons must be documented in the file.”
The policy has created much controversy. Critics say it will bring reignite the War on Drugs and that’s not going to do anyone any good.
“Decades of experience shows we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of America’s drug problem,” Brett Tolman, a former United States attorney in Utah told the New York Times. “Instead, we must direct resources to treatment and to specifically combating violent crime.”
Udi Ofer of ACLU said, “With overall crime rates at historic lows, it is clear that this type of one-dimensional criminal justice system that directs prosecutors to give unnecessarily long and unfairly harsh sentences to people whose behavior does not call for it did not work,”
Republican Senator Rand Paul was also dubious of the effectiveness. He said that it would lead to the unfair and harsh sentencing of minorities. Disproportionate crime in high minority areas, according to Paul, is part of a larger problem.
“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,” he said.
Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah tweeted, “To be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue.”
Former Attorney General Holder had a few public words to say on the policy himself. He released a long statement calling Sessions’ decision “ill-informed,” and saying in part. “The policy announced today is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime. It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”
But supporters of the policy believe it will give Congress the tools to dismantle dangerous gangs, as well as getting drug dealers off the streets. Sessions says the law is mainly aimed at drug traffickers and other high-criminals of the sort.
“If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way,” Sessions said. “We will not be willfully blind to your conduct.”
Supporters also believe under Holder’s guidance the law was applied unevenly and created so much inconsistency in the justice department, that the public had a hard time trusting it. However, with mandatory minimum sentencing back, critics worry that the prisons may fill up again.
The intent of the new memorandum represents a significant deviation from criminal prosecution of late, which is more focused on solving the root rather than punishing the behavior of criminal offenses. After all, crime, under liberal ideology, is not always the suspect’s fault. The perpetrator was an unfortunate victim of circumstance. Their mother didn’t love them enough and they had to eat generic breakfast cereal instead of name brand ones. They listened to too much heavy metal and that’s why they shot up their school. It’s understandable. Censor the music industry instead.
Perhaps this guidance will encourage an overall attitude of personal responsibility throughout the criminal justice system, instead of making excuses for criminal behavior.