Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s former colleagues in the Senate are pushing back on his order to federal prosecutors to pursue the most severe penalties possible for defendants, including mandatory minimum sentences, and introducing legislation to give federal judges more discretion to impose lower sentences, reported the Washington Post.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who co-sponsored the legislation, said that Sessions’s new policy will “accentuate” the existing “injustice” in the criminal justice system.
“Mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe and turning mistakes into tragedies,” Paul said. “As this legislation demonstrates, Congress can come together in a bipartisan fashion to change these laws.”
Last week, in a two-page memorandum to federal prosecutors across the country, Sessions overturned former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr.’s sweeping criminal charging policy that instructed his prosecutors to avoid charging certain defendants with offenses that would trigger long mandatory minimum sentences. In its place, Sessions told his more than 5,000 assistant U.S. attorneys to charge defendants with the most serious crimes, carrying the toughest penalties.
After Sessions released his new policy, it drew bipartisan criticism that the policy would mark a return to mass incarceration, especially of minorities. It was embraced, however, by the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, whose president said it would restore more tools to do their jobs.
“An outgrowth of the failed war on drugs, mandatory sentencing strips critical public-safety resources away from law-enforcement strategies that actually make our communities safer,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.).
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