USA

Former US Attorney reacts to Sessions' call for tougher sentences

Former US Attorney reacts to Sessions' call for tougher sentences

In 2013, then-Attorney General Eric Holder directed prosecutors to avoid charging people with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences, which require judges to impose lengthier prison terms. That effort really ramped up in the late 1980s with the introduction of mandatory minimums for drug crimes, and peaked with the Clinton-era 1994 crime bill that established further harsh sentences and funneled billions into the nation's prisons.

In a two-page note to federal prosecutors, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed course from the previous Obama administration and told the nation's 94 U.S. attorneys to "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense".

Sessions' memo has already been criticized by fellow Republican Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky. This policy utilizes the tools Congress has given us.

"Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long", said Sen.

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For instance, if a nonviolent drug courier was caught with cocaine, the prosecutors could choose not to count the kilos, especially if counting up the kilos would lead to decades of prison time under federal rules.

"These reversals will be both substantively and financially ruinous, setting the Department back on a track to again spending one third of its budget on incarcerating people, rather than preventing, detecting, or investigating crime" Holder said of Sessions's decision in a statement on Friday.

Yates said at the time that doing so was possible because of declining inmate numbers. "If the Administration wants to help improve economically distressed neighborhoods, it should be focused on creating jobs and improving the economy, not building walls, eliminating and reducing health care, and locking people up for non-violent low-level drug offenses".

"The opioid and heroin epidemic is a contributor to the recent surge of violent crime in America", Sessions said in a speech Thursday.

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KASTE: It is pretty clear that the attorney general is not concerned with political correctness on this issue of sentencing, and that's something many in law enforcement welcome.

The policy change takes place immediately, even though nearly all the US attorneys across the county are serving in acting roles, following the request for resignation in March of all remaining as holdovers from the Obama administration. "Attorney General Sessions' new policy will accentuate that injustice".

The Obama administration, which led a bipartisan push for more lenient and flexible sentencing laws, presided over the first decline in the federal prison population in a generation.

If the prosecutors do not think they need to apply the strict policy, they must receive permission from a "United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General or a supervisor designated by the United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General". In some cases, mandatory minimum and recidivist enhancement statutes have resulted in unduly harsh sentences and perceived or actual disparities that do not reflect our Principles of Federal Prosecution. On the Obama-era policy Session has rolled back: "This was fiscally smart and compassionate policy that started to stem the tide of mass incarceration in our country".

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Sessions allows that in some cases prosecutors might decide to shift from that policy and charge only a lower offense, but that they should "carefully consider whether an exception" to the policy is warranted.


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