It wasn’t long ago that federal attorneys in the U.S. Department of Justice were busy crafting rules and guidelines to rein in the known excesses and many aberrational outcomes linked with the so-called War on Drugs.
In fact, criminal sentencing reform in the federal realm was a top-shelf focus of the Obama presidential administration and the U.S. Department of Justice under the helm of former Attorney General Eric Holder.
While Holder’s staff busily engaged in the formulation of new policies stressing material criminal justice reforms (being especially focused on what is termed mandatory minimum sentencing), they undoubtedly did so without due appreciation for an event that they couldn’t remotely foresee as soon occurring.
And that was this: the election of Donald Trump as president, and his selection of a new AG having a clear mandate to dismantle key aspects of the Holder-era sentencing reforms.
Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions has wasted little time taking action to accomplish just that goal. In a memo sent out last week to the country’s nearly 100 U.S. attorneys offices, the new AG directed federal prosecutors to zealously apply mandatory minimum sentencing rules to many drug defendants.
Although DOJ officials state that the new policy will not unravel prior reforms seeking to shield many persons charged with lower-level drug offenses from unduly long prison terms, they acknowledge that Sessions’ directive will likely spur an increase in the nation’s federal prison population.
And that is precisely what the Obama/Holder reforms sought to avoid by forging new guidelines relaxing strict sentencing penalties. Moreover, note proponents of liberalized reforms, securing alternatives to prison for nonviolent and, often, first-time offenders reduces future crime (recidivism) and sharply drives down costs across the criminal justice system.
A recent national news report on the Sessions’ memo states that there are presently about 190,000 individuals confined in America’s federal prisons.
And, of course, millions are locked behind bars in the many state prisons that dot the country.