Mr. Sessions is directing federal prosecutors to impose overly harsh mandatory minimum sentences on drug crimes further devastating communities that need help.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C. The Friends Committee on National Legislation’s Legislative Associate for Domestic Policy José Santos Woss previously released the following statement in response to Attorney General Jeff Session’s agency directive on violent crime. Today’s bookend is more of the same problem: a retread of failed “war on drugs” mass incarceration policies.
“Federal prosecutors will be directed to use more of the same failed tactics of lengthy prison sentences instead of what these communities need: public health, opportunity, and relief from mass incarceration. Quakers believe that God dwells in every human soul. People should have equal opportunity to fulfill their own potential and to contribute to their communities. Warehousing more and more poor people and people of color in prison goes against what Spirit and Friends have called us to do; seek a world with equity and justice for all.”
The Attorney General released a new memo taking the place of the Holder memo ultimately wasting precious federal dollars to go after low-level drug offenses with longer prison sentences. The memo AG Sessions effectively repealed with his new charging policies, directed federal prosecutors to limit asking judges to impose extremely long sentences except in cases where public safety is truly at risk. AG Sessions continues to conflate drug crimes with violent crime. Many who engage in the drug trade do so nonviolently. Experts are thinking differently about the way we treat addiction. Those who break the law should face consequences, but those consequences should have the aim of rehabilitating—not merely punishing.
This new charging policy ramps up enforcement and will impose more excessive mandatory minimum sentences on low-level offenders. This new charging policy will only result in continuing to defy the core values we profess to live by: freedom, liberty, and equal justice under the law. Black youth make up 16% of all children in America, but comprise 28% of those in the justice system. The United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners. Furthermore, we know 95% of everyone that goes to prison will return to communities. Mass incarceration fails communities and continues to fail the taxpayer costing more than $80 billion a year at the state and federal level. Congress should exercise its authority and lower these excessive mandatory minimum sentences through sentencing reform bills that nearly passed last year.
In communities around the U.S. we strip returning citizens of opportunities when our society refuses to hire them; many are denied federal safety-net protections –like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or “Food Stamps” (SNAP)—when they need the most help; lastly many go right back to prison (a third) or get rearrested (50%) according to the government’s own numbers. Our society creates a near-permanent underclass of people who are trapped by poverty and mass incarceration.
We need to build a society where each person has the right to live a life of dignity by providing rehabilitation through re-entry services and fairer, shorter sentences, not more incarceration; Mr. Sessions is merely recycling problems through a broken system.