Sessions: The return of the drug war
Jeff Sessions is staging “a devastating revival of the War on Drugs,” said Kara Gotsch and Marc Mauer in TheHill.com. The attorney general last week instructed federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious provable offenses carrying the stiffest penalties, “including mandatory minimum sentences.” It’s a flashback to the 1980s and ’90s, when the crack epidemic fueled draconian policies that imprisoned millions, ruined lives, and blighted communities of color. Because of those policies, half of all federal inmates are primarily nonviolent, low-level drug offenders; more inmates are serving life sentences without parole for drug crimes than for murder. The Obama administration rolled back mandatory minimums and focused on violent crimes—a policy that won bipartisan support, eased prison crowding, and stressed treatment over punishment. Now Sessions threatens to undo years of progress while exacerbating a racial disparity that plagues “every level of the criminal justice system.”
Sessions “put that law-and-order twang back into the Justice Department,” said Cheryl Chumley in The Washington Times. Liberals “squeal about the inherent racism of Sessions’ order,” but that’s just a partisan smoke screen to justify a soft-oncrime approach. “Black, white, Hispanic”—if you’re involved in drugs, simply “choose now to quit.” Sessions is merely “applying the law,” said the Washington Examiner in an editorial. “These reforms come at the right time”: 20 million Americans use illegal drugs, sapping billions from the economy, while after a two-decade decline, violent crime rose in 35 of America’s 45 largest cities over the past two years. “The rule of law is a prerequisite of a civilized society; lenient sentencing is not.”
The U.S. definitely “has a serious drug problem,” said Ruth Ann Dailey in the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, but it won’t be solved by locking people up for decades. To justify his crackdown, Sessions claimed that the drug trade is “dangerous and violent.” But while drug use has soared, violent crime rates remain far lower than they were 20 years ago, despite a recent uptick in some cities. “The War on Drugs has been a complete failure,” said Kyle Sammin in TheFederalist.com. It’s also led to a lot of Big Government overreach, which is not conservative. In dealing with addiction, most cities, states, and rural communities have come to realize that “treatment and counseling” are more effective than jailing people. Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920s—and it won’t work now.