US prosecutors told to push for more, harsher punishments

Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes opening remarks during a Drug Enforcement Administration 360 Heroin and Opioid Response Summit at the University of Charleston Thursday

Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes opening remarks during a Drug Enforcement Administration 360 Heroin and Opioid Response Summit at the University of Charleston Thursday

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is taking the war on drugs nuclear, ordering federal prosecutors across the country to pursue the longest prison sentences possible for drug offenders and others in a reversal of Obama-era policies.

The brief, two-page directive, issued to the 94 USA attorneys offices across the country late Thursday, replaces a 2013 memo put in place by then-Attorney General Eric Holder that sought to limit the use of mandatory-minimum sentencing rules that had condemned some non-violent offenders to long prison terms - that proved to be expensive for taxpayers.

"It ensures that the Department enforces the law fairly and consistently, advances public safety and promotes respect for our legal system", Sessions said in the memo dated on Wednesday. "Attorney General Sessions' new policy will accentuate that injustice".

Speaking in Virginia in March, Sessions told the crowd, "To turn back this rising tide of violent crime, we need to confront the heroin and opioid crisis in our nation - and dismantle the transnational cartels that bring drugs and violence into our neighborhoods".

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.

Sessions held a news conference on the new policy earlier Friday and Trump has said he chose to fire Comey because the President thought he was doing a bad job and for being a "showboat". Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, has been one of the most vocal Republicans leading the effort and was critical of Sessions' new policy.

This all went against a big policy shift by President Barack Obama's administration.

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The move will send more people to prison and for much longer terms by triggering mandatory minimum sentences.

"This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us", the attorney general's memo says.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, offered praise for Sessions' new action, saying "law enforcement should side with the victims of crime rather than its perpetrators".

In Appalachian states hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, the tough-on-crime policy announced Friday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions runs counter to a recent emphasis on treatment and less prison time for low-level drug offenders. According to the ACLU, mandatory minimums, or required sentences for a particular crime that do not take into account individual factors, have disproportionately affected people of color, specifically black men.

Prosecutors should also disclose to the court all factors that impact sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences, Sessions' memo said. Prison sentences for black men were found in a 2013 US Sentencing Commission analysis to be nearly 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.

Sessions will make additional comments on the changes later today, the Justice Department said in a separate statement.

The new guidelines are a departure from an Obama-era policy that eased prosecutions of people with non-violent drug offenses. Harvey said the intent was to give federal judges more flexibility in sentencing and reduce prison overcrowding.

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