AG Sessions tells prosecutors to seek 'most serious' charges

Sessions' DOJ releases memo to all 94 US attorneys calling for reversal of Holder-era policy

Sessions noted that "there will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application" of the policy is not warranted, but that any exceptions must first be approved by a USA attorney, assistant attorney general, or a designated supervisor.

Sessions is ending Obama administration policies that told federal prosecutors to avoid charging low-level offenders with crimes that carry heavy mandatory sentences. The change would trigger longer prison sentences. Holder himself responded, calling the policy "dumb on crime", "ideologically motivated", and "cookie cutter". Sessions stated that the directive could interfere with the Bureau of Prisons' need to host more inmates in the future. He said, "The opioid and heroin epidemic is a contributor to the recent surge of violent crime in America".

JEFF SESSIONS: We intend to reverse this trend. Known as the "epicenter" of the country's opioid epidemic, the state sees a resident die of a fatal drug overdose every 10 hours, NBC News reported. The implementation of Sessions's memo will be overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who has come under criticism in recent days for the firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James B. Comey.

The Justice Department has already had conversations with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons about the need for flexibility with capacity in relation to immigration detainees, so U.S. officials are apparently aware they may need to increase prison space although at the moment the federal prison population is at an all-time low. "Sessions is taking the country back to the 1980s by escalating the failed policies of the drug war".

Former U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey, who was the top federal prosecutor for the eastern half of Kentucky, said he was concerned that a multifaceted approach emphasizing prevention and treatment was being abandoned by the Trump administration. "Because millions and millions of people want to do drugs", he said. All it will cost is the lives and livelihoods of regular, non-violent Americans, a disproportionate number of which will be minority and male.

Sessions has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for being "soft on crime" and accused the former president's policies of leading to violent crimes. So Pfaff says the national stats aren't going to change that much because of this new policy. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said mandatory minimums have "unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long".

Longtime eastern Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers, a Republican, said in a statement Friday that he "strongly supports the use of drug courts and other evidence-based alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders".

He says the policy is simply an application of sentencing laws approved by Congress.

"Disproportionate fact of mandatory sentences have fallen on black people and people of color", said Allentown-based attorney David Vaida, who sides with civil rights groups that argue the new guidelines are deeply flawed and will lead to a growth in the prison population. Social justice advocates and experts, with the support of communities and lawmakers nationwide, have growing consensus that we can not afford policies that are economically disastrous and ineffective.

"Charging and sentencing recommendations are bedrock responsibilities of any prosecutor".

SESSIONS: I have empowered our prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense as I believe the law requires - most serious, readily provable offense. That is sure to send more people to prison and for much longer terms by triggering mandatory minimum sentences.

The policy shift is meant to advance public safety and promote respect and consistency for the legal system, Sessions said Friday during public remarks, adding that it is the "the right and moral thing to do".

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