Session’s charging memo is a huge step backward that will raise taxpayers’ costs, with no public safety benefit.
Attorney General Sessions’ new sentencing directive to federal prosecutors is a huge step backward that will raise taxpayer costs with no public safety benefit. If the Attorney General wishes to enhance public safety, JPI urges a shift towards individually-tailored approaches that address people’s needs.
Since 2013, federal prosecutors were given the opportunity to work with the courts to fashion sentences that were more focused on the individual circumstances of each case and less focused on prosecutors simply seeking the longest prison term possible. This approach allows the criminal justice system to focus on addressing a defendants’ behavior by holding them accountable while connecting them to the treatment and resources that fit their unique needs.
The research is clear: long sentences do not reduce the likelihood that someone will reoffend. The new policy issued by the Attorney General will not make us safer, it will simply result in significantly increasing the years people spend behind bars, growing our already outsized prison population. Harsher sentencing and enforcement of mandatory minimums harkens back to the tough on crime approach of the war on drugs, which we know disproportionately affected people of color and vulnerable communities.
As we continue to spend more money on keeping people behind bars for longer terms, Attorney General Session’s directive also means there will be less federal dollars available for police, and treatment to address the opioid challenges some communities are facing. Because taxpayers will be spending more on federal prison beds, we will be unable to reinvest dollars in the holistic criminal justice reform that our communities truly need.
The Attorney General’s directive is a departure from bi-partisan support for sentencing changes and increased judicial discretion, including law changes overseen by Republican Governors and legislators in states such as Florida and Ohio.
If the Attorney General wants to enhance public safety, he should be working with his administration to address the treatment needs of people involved in the justice system by maintaining Medicaid expansion, which has had a huge impact in expanding treatment opportunities for people leaving jails and prisons. Since every dollar invested in someone’s treatment needs saves several dollars in crime and corrections costs in the long-term, keeping Medicaid expansion intact would have a far greater public safety benefit than simply adding years to someone’s sentence.