Jeff Sessions Escalates Drug War and Urges Prosecutors to Seek Harsh Sentencing

After years of progress, our Attorney General is trying to drag us back to the 1980s.

Photo Credit: Adobe of Chaos / Flickr

When President Trump came into office and appointed Jeff Sessions, drug war activists feared that he would take away the tremendous progress that was gained under the Obama administration. Now our greatest fear materialized when Attorney General Jeff Sessions just released a memo to prosecutors, calling on them to push for the “most serious” charges against people, hoping to trigger mandatory minimum drug sentences. This policy reverses former attorney general Eric Holder directive which asked prosecutors to avoid using mandatory minimum sentencing laws. 

The memo is a direct reversal of the policy of his predecessor, Attorney General Eric Holder, who urged prosecutors to avoid draconian mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. In August of 2013 the Associated Press released a video about Attorney General Eric Holder speaking about the proposed reforms. I was invited to appear on CNN’s Your Money hosted by Christine Roman to talk about the issue. The host of the show used my case to point out the injustice of mandatory minimum sentencing laws that Attorney General Eric Holder highlighted in his speech.

“This is a disastrous move that will increase the prison population, exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and do nothing to reduce drug use or increase public safety,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Sessions is taking the country back to the 1980s by escalating the failed policies of the drug war.”

The last thing our country needs to do is go back to the ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ mentality that has made the United States the number one incarcerator of the world. I know because I was a victim of the Rockefeller Drug Laws which mandated mandatory minimum sentencing. In 1985 I made a great mistake which landed me a 15 to Life sentence. The judge in my case knew I was not a drug dealer but because I went to trial and lost he had to give me a mandatory sentence.

Jeff Sessions’ push for long mandatory minimums will destroy people, families and communities. The Trump administration has declared an opioid epidemic which in turn created a license to implement these archaic draconian drug laws that have been already proven to be costly and ineffective and have ruined hundreds of thousands of lives. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws have been proven to be a prosecutorial tool that has and will continue to imprison a tremendous amount of addicted individuals that need treatment instead of incarceration.

This is the latest in a serious of measures that demonstrate the intent of the Trump Administration to ramp up the drug war. Sessions has indicated that he will also reverse the Obama-era policy of allowing states to set their own marijuana policies, and head of Homeland Security John Kelly is using the war on drugs to persecute immigrants, pushing to deport individuals for simple marijuana possession.

We need to remember the past and how mandatory minimum sentencing destroyed our criminal justice system. If not President Trump and Jeff Sessions are in for a rude awaking. We need to stop them before it’s too late.


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Anthony Papa is the manager of media and artists relations for the Drug Policy Alliance. He is the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency.