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AG Jeff Sessions reverses end Smart On Crime initiative

14 May 2017

Sessions' action would essentially reverse former Attorney General Eric Holder's directive to not pursue harsh sentencing for low-level and non-violent drug crimes. 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". "This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us", Sessions told thousands of assistant USA attorneys in the memo. The $4.8 billion industry has spent millions of dollars lobbying for laws that call for harsher sentences for offenders and against legislation that would reduce them. Prior to this memo, prosecutors did not have to get supervisory approval to recommend a sentence outside the guidelines.

Federal inmates represent a sliver of the overall US prison population of more than 1.5 million, according to Justice Department statistics. 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.

"Attorney General Sessions' new policy will accentuate that injustice", he said in a statement.

Now, if prosecutors wish to pursue lesser charges for these low-level crimes, they will need to obtain approval for the exception from a US attorney, assistant attorney general or another supervisor.

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In a letter to 94 US attorneys Thursday night, Sessions called it a "core principle" that prosecutors charge and pursue "the most serious and readily provable offense".

Supporters of Holder's policy have argued that quantities of drugs are a weak indicator of how unsafe a person may be.

The move is needed to address a rise in violent crime in cities across the country, Sessions said, tying it to drug use and saying the new policy "promotes respect for our legal system". And he outlined exceptions for not pursuing mandatory minimum sentences, including if a defendant's crime does not involve violence or if the person doesn't have a leadership role in a criminal organization.

Almost 40 per cent of the total prison population is black and 19 per cent is Latino.

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Sessions' directive counters a national trend to eliminate some of the most severe sentencing policies adopted during the 1980's era war on drugs.

"They deserve to be un-handcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington", he said. For example, if someone is caught with 1,000 kilos of marijuana, which would kick in a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence, attorneys must now tell the court the full amount or marijuana. "It exploded the prison population, didn't help public safety, and cost taxpayers billions in enforcement and incarceration costs". It's dumb on crime. "The largest increase in murder since 1968 and we know that drugs and crime go hand-in-hand, they just do, the facts prove that so", Sessions said. Poverty and crime go hand-in-hand, not drugs and crime.

"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.

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AG Jeff Sessions reverses end Smart On Crime initiative