Reversing Progress, Sessions Order Embraces 'Vicious Cycle of Incarceration'

In a bid to revive the failed War on Drugs, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a sweeping memorandum on Friday directing prosecutors to pursue the most harsh charges available for low-level offenders, reinstating a discredited practice that rights groups warn has already “devastated the lives and rights of millions of Americans.”

The two-page document (pdf) distributed to federal prosecutors nationwide lays out charging and sentencing policy for the Trump administration.

“It is a core principle,” it states, “that prosecutors should charges and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense…By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

Though anticipated, the move drew swift condemnation from civil rights and legal groups that said it would “perpetuate racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” lead to dangerously overcrowded prisons, and place even more non-violent people in the “vicious cycle of incarceration.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law minced no words when it declared the War on Drugs “a failure.”

“Mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses perpetuate racial disparities in the criminal justice system and damage law enforcement relationships with the minority community,” the legal group said. “Attorney General Jeff Sessions must not turn the clock back by resorting to outdated and discriminatory tough-on-crime tactics.”

Similarly, Udi Ofer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign for Smart Justice, said that 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.”