This month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent out a memo to prosecutors across the country, demanding that they seek out the minimum mandatory sentence when it comes to prosecuting drug related cases. He worked with deputy attorney general Steve Cook, a long time drug opponent, to write this memo. Like Sessions, Cook believes in being tough on crime and seeking the harshest possible punishments for offenders. The deputy, who is former president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys (NAAUSA), is now turning his attentions toward hate crimes, the manner in which law enforcement seizes cash and property and, last but not least, marijuana related offenses.
Building on a Foundation of Outdated Philosophies
Cook’s philosophy is very straightforward when it comes to prosecuting criminals. He told the Associated Press that “this theory that we have embraced since the beginning of civilization is, when you put criminals in prison, crime goes down. It really is that simple.” In fact, this is a highly challenged idea that is considered to be outdated and that has proven itself to be incorrect. Even Republicans have found it difficult to support his ideas, finding them not only to be outmoded but also financially irresponsible. Nonetheless, he remains present in a highly influential role, pressing forward on the mission to impart the longest and harshest sentences on all criminal suspects.
Blanket Rules for Drug Offenders Proven to Not Work
The NAAUSA believes that there is no such thing as a non-violent drug offender and no such thing as a low level drug offender at a federal level. Where former Attorney General Eric Holder worked to treat each suspect as an individual, basing sentences on the individual’s history and involvement in leadership roles, both Cook and Sessions believe that all criminals should be charged in the same way and given the maximum possible sentence. They believe that the threat of incarceration will propel them to cooperate more with authorities, although Holder found this to be untrue. During his time in the Obama administration, prison populations went down for the first time in decades along with crime and the number of drug prosecutions.
Anxiety Over Federal Focus on Marijuana
As the office turns its attention now towards marijuana, many are nervous about where the direction may go. Several bills, sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, that would legalize marijuana on a federal level are already on the table right now, being discussed by lawmakers across the country. According to the latest polls, 60 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use and ending prohibition. While marijuana use is the same across all racial boards, it is mostly African American or Latino offenders that are charged with drug possession. The current racial prejudice when it comes to these crimes has been a central motivation in getting marijuana decriminalized throughout the country. The introduction of harsher penalties are likely to instigate more tension around the issue.
Holder has stated that the new direction is not “tough on crime” but rather “dumb on crime” and “driven by voices who have not only been discredited but until now have been relegated to the fringes of this debate.” The country will need to wait and see what direction the office will go in.