In the last post, Sessions’ Justice Department goes all-in on sentencing, we learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has mandated a revival of the discredited “tough-on-crime” charging and sentencing approaches.
And, as comforting as it is to blame Sessions, there’s a more important point.
Sessions is only able to do this because horrendous laws exist.
For us, there’s no doubt that it’s easier to complain about the actions of an administration that goes all-out in the enforcement of unjust laws, or a Supreme Court that refuses to override unjust laws. But the reality is that the best way to prevent them is to eliminate (or prevent the passing of) the laws themselves. And that, unfortunately, involves the messy self-serving chaos that is Congress.
Fortunately, we’re making progress. It used to be that any Congressperson could bolster their reelection efforts by proposing the expansion of criminal laws or adding new sentencing enhancements. We’re finally getting to the point where that’s not automatic. We need to get to the point where a representative will actually lose support by considering such a thing, and get ridiculed on the floor of Congress.
While Congress has not yet succeeded in passing significant sentencing reform (it’s always harder to remove bad laws than to pass them), the reaction to Sessions’ proclamation is heartening.
A number of members of Congress criticized the new U.S. Department of Justice drug prosecution policy:
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): “Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long. Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice.”
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT): “The Attorney General’s new sentencing policy is an ideologically motivated attempt to resurrect the failed policies of the War on Drugs. Make no mistake, low-level offenders will spend years and even decades more in prison. This will not make us safer — quite the opposite, it will strip critical public safety resources away from targeting truly violent criminals in order to house nonviolent drug offenders.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL): “This policy shift flies in the face of the growing bipartisan consensus that we need to reduce—not increase—the length of prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. It will send already skyrocketing prison costs even higher, undermining other important public safety priorities and separating nonviolent drug offenders from their families for years, which has a destructive effect on communities and erodes faith in our criminal justice system.”
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT): “To be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue.”
To be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue: https://t.co/L1x4WbXLZL
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) May 12, 2017
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA): “Jeff Sessions wants to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made on sentencing reform—and we must speak out against it.”
Jeff Sessions wants to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made on sentencing reform—and we must speak out against it. https://t.co/tHg3xag62t
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 12, 2017
Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX): “Trump/Sessions: Let’s double down on failed strategy, add to highest incarceration rate in the world. America: Let’s end the war on drugs.”
Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI): “Let’s pass criminal justice reform to put an end to this unjust, ineffective, and costly policy.”
Let's pass criminal justice reform to put an end to this unjust, ineffective, and costly policy. https://t.co/BTT5aKY0Aj
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 12, 2017
Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN): “Sessions’ memorandum is a return to the failed policies of the War on Drugs. It is bad for our communities, and utterly destructive for low-level, non-violent drug offenders. The only people who benefit from these laws are those who have a financial stake in imprisonment: the private prison industry and vendors to the public system.”
Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN): ” Harsher sentences for non-violent drug crimes cost taxpayers more money and waste limited resources that are needed to go after more dangerous, violent offenders who put the public at risk. The beneficiaries of these policies are often private prisons who profit from locking up more inmates, disproportionately affecting people of color.”
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC): “Will fight AG Sessions’ effort to revive failed War on Drugs. Mass incarceration has destroyed lives & devastated our minority communities.”
Will fight AG Sessions' effort to revive failed War on Drugs. Mass incarceration has destroyed lives & devastated our minority communities. https://t.co/zm4wNmjXhl
— Eleanor H. Norton (@EleanorNorton) May 12, 2017
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA): “As President Trump distracts with outlandish threats, AG Sessions quietly brings back the harshest sentences of the failed War on Drugs.”
As President Trump distracts with outlandish threats, AG Sessions quietly brings back the harshest sentences of the failed War on Drugs. https://t.co/hCbtOND0Xy
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) May 12, 2017
There may be some hope in that domed building in Washington, DC. We need to keep applying the pressure to our representatives that sentencing reform, not sentencing enhancement is what is needed to fix our broken criminal justice system.