What we’re reading: Jeff Sessions escalates the failed "war on drugs"

This morning, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo rescinding previous Department of Justice efforts to reform federal drug sentencing guidelines and instead directing prosecutors to seek the most severe penalties available. Here’s what we’re reading to learn more.


Jeff Sessions rolls back Obama-era drug sentencing reforms, by Ryan J. Reilly via Huffington Post

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed federal prosecutors this week to take the most aggressive approach possible against federal criminal defendants. The policy change will result in lengthier prison sentences for drug offenders and likely reverse a recent drop in the federal prison population.

In a memo dated May 10, Sessions wrote federal prosecutors 'should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,' calling that a 'core principle' of the Justice Department's charging and sentencing policy."


Sessions reverses policy, orders prosecutors to pursue the most 'serious, readily provable' offenses, by Ellie Shechet via Jezebel

"These sentencing practices have helped lead to a system of mass incarceration that is horrific in its scope and brutality. The United States contains five percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its prisoners, with roughly 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in local jails or state/federal prisons, and we spend over $80 billion on incarceration each year. Half of all federal inmates serving sentences in 2015 were there on drug charges, and only seven percent for violent crimes; Black Americans are jailed on drug offenses at a rate 10 times greater than whites, despite the fact that Black and white people use drugs at about the same rates. Prison sentences for Black men were found in a 2013 U.S. Sentencing Commission analysis to be almost 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."


Jeff Sessions reinvigorates the Drug War, by Matt Ford via The Atlantic

"The shift underscores the central role prosecutors play when determining how long Americans spend behind bars. Prosecutorial discretion, like gravity, is the unseen force that binds the American criminal-justice system together. Federal prosecutors have a broad array of legal mechanisms at their disposal with which they can ratchet a defendant's punishment higher or lower, depending on which charges they file and which sentencing enhancements they seek. Roughly 95 percent of federal criminal cases are resolved through plea deals, making the prosecutor the most influential actor in the modern system."


We have a Justice Department more willing to prosecute laughter than murder, by Ebony Slaughter-Johnson via AlterNet

"Alton Sterling didn't end up pinned on his back of his own volition. Nor did he fire the stream of bullets that ultimately ended his life. Sterling was wrestled to the ground and shot to death by a police officer for being a Black man at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Alton Sterling didn’t deserve to die—and he didn't deserve to have his memory vandalized by this further injustice offered by the Department of Justice."


"What We’re Reading" is a weekly feature on AFSC’s News and Commentary blog, where we share a curated collection of recent articles on timely issues. "What We're Reading" is meant to spark discussion, debate, and knowledge sharing, and the articles we highlight do not necessarily reflect the official organizational positions of AFSC. We encourage you to tell us what you're reading on these issues in the comments below.