Friday, May 12, 2017

Sessions seeks more 'severe penalties' for drug offenders, reversing Obama-era policy

Jeff Sessions Thursday at the University of
(Gazette-Mail photo by Kenny Kemp)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants federal prosecutors to charge drug offenders "with the most serious, provable crimes carrying the most severe penalties," Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky report for The Washington Post. There had been a push in recent years to direct some defendants towards treatment, rather than incarceration, or lesser sentences. Also, prisons in many states have struggled with overcrowding.

In 2013, then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. "instructed his prosecutors to avoid charging certain defendants with drug offenses that would trigger long mandatory minimum sentences," reports the Post. "Defendants who met a set of criteria such as not belonging to a large-scale drug trafficking organization, gang or cartel, qualified for lesser charges—and in turn less prison time—under Holder’s policy. But Sessions’s new charging policy, sent to more than 5,000 assistant U.S. attorneys, orders prosecutors to 'charge and purse the most serious, readily provable offense' and rescinds Holder’s policy immediately."

Sessions memo stated: "By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences. There will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of the above charging policy is not warranted. In that case, prosecutors should carefully consider whether an exception may be justified.”

Sessions said on Thursday in West Virginia, which leads the nation in deaths from the disproportionately rural opioid epidemic, that the growing push to step away from intensifying criminal prosecution of drug criminals misses the point, Eric Eyre and Jake Zuckerman report for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Sessions said, “They would say, which is pretty much true, ‘We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,’ and that is true, we can’t. But it is a big political part of it, and people should not diminish the power and effectiveness of good law enforcement. But prevention, I truly believe, is the greatest part of our challenge and, over time, prevention will be the most effective.”

Eyre and Zuckerman note that although Sessions advocated for drug abuse prevention, he was speaking at an event co-hosted by the Drug Enforcement Administration Community and the Anti-Drug Coalition of America, which is funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Trump's budget would cut the office 95 percent.

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