Private prisons are celebrating after Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed federal prosecutors this week to take the most aggressive approach possible against criminal defendants.
In a memo dated May 10, Sessions wrote federal prosecutors “should charge and pursue the most serious offenses they can prove,” saying it’s “moral and just, The Huffington Post reports.”
Sessions’ memorandum nixes a 2010 Obama administration memo, which encouraged federal prosecutors to use their discretion when making decisions on charging, plea agreements and sentencing recommendations.
“This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency,” Sessions wrote in the new memo. “This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”
Sessions’ move reverses a growing trend in recent years—in Washington and in states across the country—to abandon some of the harshest sentencing policies created in the 1980s-era war on drugs.
As reported by Politico, the policy change will result in lengthier prison sentences for drug offenders and reverse the recent drop in the federal prison population.
Many experts say those laws and sentencing rules led to drug offenders spending decades in prison or even receiving life behind bars, when lesser sentences would have been adequate. The laws also ballooned the prison population, leading to costs that were unsustainable for some state governments.
“Decades of experience shows we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of America’s drug problem. Instead, we must direct resources to treatment and to specifically combatting violent crime. This will help law enforcement do our jobs better,” Brett Tolman, a U.S. Attorney for Utah under President George W. Bush, said in a statement.
Former U.S. Attorney general Eric Holder said that he didn’t think extremely long sentences would necessarily induce cooperation so much as the certainty of punishment.
He added: “I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976, I understand the notion of starting at the bottom and working your way up, and I would never put in place a system that would undercut that fundamental part of our law enforcement system,” Holder said at the time. “And yet I think we can be smarter. We don’t have to put people in jail for 10 and 15 years. You could have sentences that are substantially shorter that will, necessarily, continue to induce the kind of cooperation that we need.”
By the end of former President Barack Obama’s term, HuffPost writes, he became the first commander in chief since Jimmy Carter to leave office with a lower federal prison population than when he arrived.