"It is in essence the same sentencing and charging doctrine that we have followed for decades with regard to charging the most readily provable offenses and holding people accountable for their actions", she said. Sessions, though, said it had "impaired the [Bureau of Prisons'] ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system" - hinting that he saw a very different future for putting people behind bars.
Advocates warned the shift would crowd federal prisons and strain Justice Department resources. However, the federal prison population is expected to grow under Sessions' watch, considering both his battle against drug offenses and the Trump administration's immigration crackdown.
But mandatory minimum sentencing is nothing new - the policies outlined by Sessions hearken back to the "tough-on-crime" era of the late 1980s and early 1990s. During remarks at the Sergeants Benevolent Association Awards presentation in New York City on Friday, Sessions said his new approach is simply the "right and moral thing to do", noting upticks in violent crime in several cities across the US and linking those surges to drugs. "It is dumb on crime", he said in a statement.
Never mind that there has been an explosion in opioid and heroin addiction under the Obama administration's soft policies that treated drug crimes as non-violent offenses.
A turbulent week in our nation's capital is coming to a close with a new directive from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us", Sessions told thousands of assistant USA attorneys in the memo. Yet, it doesn't exclude them and we all know Sessions is still madly in love with the war on drugs. It has always been expected from Sessions, a former federal prosecutor who cut his teeth during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic and who has promised to make combating violence and drugs the Justice Department's top priority.
The directive does allow prosecutors to show leniency in the cases that "would result in an injustice", but in all other cases, Sessions is ordering prosecutors to go for the throat.
The Harvard Journal on Legislation critiqued the Holder memo as an "expansion of executive", essentially scrutinizing the method used to impose the policy (i.e. without the help of Congress).
Overhauling drug sentencing and mandatory minimums have increasingly become a bipartisan effort in recent years, as the so-called war on drugs has led to an incarcerated population of more than 2 million, overburdened prison systems, heavy costs to taxpayers, and persistent obstacles to reentry in society by offenders. "Is the attorney general saying this in drug cases, but not in white collar cases?"
The reversal gives prosecutors better tools to go after drug traffickers and gangs, said Lawrence Leiser, head of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
The memo also directs prosecutors to always pursue sentences with the range calculated by federal guidelines - which are sometimes above even the mandatory minimums - unless a supervisor says it is OK to do otherwise.
"We favor a different approach which requires changing some of the existing federal laws", Freedom's Chairman Mark Holden said in a statement.