Disastrous Move will Increase Prison Population, Exacerbate Racial Disparities and do Nothing to Reduce Drug Use
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, pushing back on bipartisan momentum to reduce the amount of people behind bars, issued a memo to prosecutors, calling on them to push for the “most serious” charges against people, hoping to trigger mandatory minimum drug sentences.Sessions reversed the criminal justice policy of former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. Holder told prosecutors to avoid charging certain nonviolent defendants with drug offenses that would prompt draconian mandatory minimum sentences. Sessions’ memo directs his federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the crimes carrying the most severe penalties possible.
“This is a disastrous move that will increase the prison population, exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and do nothing to reduce drug use or increase public safety,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Sessions is taking the country back to the 1980s by escalating the failed policies of the drug war.”
“The last thing our country needs to do is go back to the ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ mentality that has made the United States the number one incarcerator of the world,” said Anthony Papa, manager of media relations at the DPA. Papa served 12 years behind bars on a mandatory minimum sentence under New York’s draconian Rockefeller drug laws.
“Jeff Sessions’ push for long mandatory minimums will destroy people, families and communities,” Papa said.This is the latest in a serious of measures that demonstrate the intent of the Trump Administration to ramp up the Drug War, according to the DPA. Sessions has indicated that he will also reverse the Obama-era policy of allowing states to set their own marijuana policies, and head of Homeland Security John Kelly is using the War On Drugs to persecute immigrants, pushing to deport individuals for simple marijuana possession.
“Congress has to act now and serve as a check on the egregious behavior of Sessions’ Justice Department,” said Collins. “Both parties and the public have expressed a desire in passing sentencing reform – we need to pass a bill on this now more than ever.”“Jeff Sessions is pushing federal prosecutors to reverse progress and repeat a failed experiment — the War on Drugs — that has devastated the lives and rights of millions of Americans, ripping apart families and communities and setting millions, particularly Black people and other people of color, on a vicious cycle of incarceration,” said Udi Ofer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign for Smart Justice.
“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,” Ofer said. “It failed for 40 years, and from the halls of state legislatures to the ballot box, the American people have said with a clear voice that they want commonsense reforms to sentencing policy, and not a return to the draconian policies that have already cost us too much.”
“This is a direct attack on social justice and equality,” said Virgil Grant, president and cofounder of the cannabis trade organization, Southern California Coalition. “The Sessions memo takes a new Jim Crow approach that does not work. These failed policies will only continue to ruin more lives, cause the illicit marketplace to thrive, and endanger communities.“This astoundingly foolish approach is more than a step backwards,” Grant said. “It is a direct assault on African Americans and other minorities, who will be targeted and sentenced at higher rates than they already are now. It will also turn back the progress that we’ve made reforming racially biased laws and dismantle the sensible policies enacted by the Obama Administration.”
According to the ACLU, most people the police bust for cannabis aren’t kingpins. They are, instead, individuals with small amounts of weed.
Marijuana arrests aren’t evenly distributed across the population, of course. They are disproportionately imposed on African Americans.
The ACLU’s original analysis shows that cannabis arrests now account for more than half of all drug arrests in the U.S. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88 percent were for simple possession. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: a significant racial bias.
“With this new position, Sessions revealed to the American people that he is not only scarily misinformed about new approaches that work, but that he is clueless about the personal and taxpayer costs of massive enforcement of laws criminalizing personal drug use and possession,” Grant said. “Sessions’ 1980s-failed-war-on-drugs approach must be overturned, or Americans should expect more injustices, more crime on our streets, and more harm done to minorities and lower socioeconomic communities.
“At a time when 71 percent of Americans do not want a crackdown on state-legal cannabis, the Trump Administration and elected officials, who fail to take action or let this policy go unchallenged, can only expect a major political backlash from the American people,” Grant said.This decision by DOJ to overturn previous Justice Department guidance will lead to thousands of people spending unnecessary years of imprisonment while doing nothing to advance public safety, according to the NAACP.
“The Attorney General’s directive suggests that this long ugly era of mass incarceration now has eternal life,” said Cornell William Brooks, NAACP president and CEO. “Contradicting common sense, conscience, and experience of red and blue state governors, this new policy takes us quickly backward.”
Earlier DOJ guidance that discouraged the federal prosecution of low-level drug offenders resulted in a 14 percent drop in federal prosecution of drug cases and a focus on more serious offenses and more dangerous offenders. Since reaching its historic peak in 2013, reforms in drug prosecution and sentencing as well as the Obama Administration’s clemency initiative led to a significant decrease in the federal prison population, which had dropped 14 percent (to 188,800) by April 2017.The Sessions memo essentially guarantees a larger federal prison population, according to the NAACP, ensuring that money that would be better used on preventing crime will be spent imprisoning people who are no risk to the communities.
The memo takes us back to the “War On Drugs” mentality that has led to our current age of mass incarceration, making the USA the world leader in the number of people incarcerated. The racial disparities in arrest, prosecution, and incarceration have led to the devastation of African American families and communities, according to the NAACP.
“The NAACP is not ready to move backward,” the organization announced in a prepared statement on Friday. “We must work to dismantle our system of mass incarceration, instead of exacerbating the problem. We will not allow the Attorney General to turn the clock back on federal criminal justice reform.”