Attorney General Jeff Sessions, busy as he is with baldly involving himself in an investigation he is supposed to be recused from, has managed to find time to shove a largely unwilling country back into the catastrophically racist war on drugs of the ‘80s and ‘90s. In a two-page memo issued on Thursday, Sessions overturned an Obama-era directive and instructed prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”
From the Washington Post:
The Holder memo, issued in August 2013, instructed his prosecutors to avoid charging certain defendants with drug offenses that would trigger long mandatory minimum sentences. 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.
Now, if prosecutors want to pursue less severe charges for low-level crimes, they have to seek out special permission.
Sessions, who is also threatening to unwind police reform and recently said marijuana is “nearly as dangerous as heroin” (it is not), is certainly not going to let extremely clear facts and figures get in the way of his obsession with stuffing as many black and brown people into prisons and detention centers as he possibly can.
Violent crime remains at a historic low nationally—violent and property crimes have dropped by a combined 14.6 percent between 2010 and 2015—although it spiked slightly between 2014 and 2015 according to FBI figures; Sessions has used this as evidence that we ought to return to harsher sentencing practices.
These sentencing practices have helped lead to a system of mass incarceration that is horrific in its scope and brutality. The United States contains five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its prisoners, with roughly 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in local jails or state/federal prisons, and we spend over $80 billion on incarceration each year. Half of all federal inmates serving sentences in 2015 were there on drug charges, and only seven percent for violent crimes; black Americans are jailed on drug offenses at a rate 10 times greater than whites, despite the fact that black and white people use drugs at about the same rates. Prison sentences for black men were found in a 2013 US Sentencing Commission analysis to be almost 20 percent longer than those for white men who had committed similar crimes. By age 14, around a quarter of black children have had an incarcerated parent.
Since 2009, the sky-high US prison population has been falling. In order to better accommodate what is likely to be a massive upswing, Sessions has conveniently already reversed the Justice Department’s plan to phase out federal use of private prisons—who are, of course, the real winners here, having quickly cashed in on their significant investments into the Trump campaign.