Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a memo to staff this week that included his intentions on getting tougher on crime. His 2 page memo detailed his intentions of changing the stance on crime, telling the 5,000 or so U.S. attorneys and district attorneys to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” This position is the opposite to the one held by his predecessor, Eric Holder, who was more lenient, believing that each case should be treated individually. Sessions however, is working to punish and imprison offenders to the fullest extent possible and working to include minimum mandatory sentences. This level of harsh punishment and zero tolerance is reflective of the policies held in the 1980s and 1990s that failed to curb any drug use and overpopulated prisons across the country.
“Dumb on Crime”
Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance, emailed a statement to NPR, stating, ”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. Sessions is taking the country back to the 1980s by escalating the failed policies of the drug war.” Holder agreed with Collins, stating “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.”
The Impact of the “War on Drugs” Philosophy
Sessions insists that his motives for increasing penalties are aimed towards drug dealers and drug traffickers. Whether or not this is the case, the change will affect everyone and make it very difficult for drug users to get clean after being imprisoned and incurring a record that will affect all future employment, housing and education. Many times the only way an inmate can survive a release from prison is to resort to crime again. This kind of punishment has been found to compound and escalate the problem instead of fixing it. Nonetheless, the attorney general seems intent on moving forward with his position.
Pre-Meditative Moves in Favor of Private Prisons
The new policy will no doubt increase both federal prosecutions and increase prison populations, a fact that will echo issues into the future. Earlier this year, Sessions reversed a directive from the previous deputy attorney general Sally Yates that would stop the use of private prisons for holding federal prisoners. She was able to set this directive, based on a reduction of prisoners being held. Sessions stated that the directive could interfere with the Bureau of Prisons’ need to host more inmates in the future. Both the reversal and the accompanying statement indicate that Sessions anticipated making a move that would increase the prison population once again.
These kinds of policies have always failed to curb drug use in the past and have previously led to an epidemic in prison overpopulation. It’s unlikely to do any better this time around but, as it stands, that is something we will just have to see unfold over the coming few years.