Attorney general calls for harsher sentences on drug offenses despite conflicts


Attorney General Jeff Sessions has given an order to prosecutors stating they should seek the full charges in each criminal offense, reversing key Obama administration violations on drug offenses and conflicting with the goals of the White House to combat drug abuse, established conventions of addiction treatment, and what policy solutions to the drug epidemic should look like.

The 180-degree shift in policy is designed to propel some of Sessions’ main goals, one of which is combating crimes concerning drugs and dealing.

In his memo announcing the change in strategy, Sessions called for more uniform sentencing and a return to Bush-era policies of mandatory minimum sentences, a practice critics say is detrimental to rehabilitation and keeps drug addicts unnecessarily imprisoned when they are convicted of a nonviolent offense.

“I think when you take together the approach to sentencing and the changes to the Affordable Care Act, they’re going to cause significant challenges to provide treatment and keep [drug addicts] out of the justice system when appropriate,” said Jason Ziedenberg, research and policy director at the Justice Policy Institute.

“There is no evidence that a mandatory sentence will curb crime or drug use. All this is going to mean is a person who was going to serve seven years is going to serve 15. It’s so much more about what is going on with that person.”

When Eric Holder was the attorney general during the Obama administration, there was a statute that allowed prosecutors to individually tailor and combine shorter sentences with drug rehabilitation treatment, which resulted in the person remaining out of the justice system and seeking recovery within their community, Ziedenberg said.

“Those prosecutors didn’t have to seek that full sentence,” he said. “Under what Sessions directed last week, he’s basically saying seek the full sentence.”

The attorney general has been known for his harsh stance on drug offenders, and views that drug abuse is inextricably bound to crime.

The aim of the new policy, Sessions suggested at the Department of Justice when he announced the shift, is to… (continue reading)