Speed Reads

mandatory minimums

Sessions likely pushing law enforcement to seek longer prison sentences

A memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to all federal prosecutors on Wednesday primarily focuses on violent crime, but one passage suggests Sessions is pushing for a change in charging policy that would produce longer prison sentences.

"[M]any violent crimes are driven by drug trafficking," Sessions wrote, so aggressively prosecuting the drug war could reduce violent crime, he argued. "I encourage you to employ the full complement of federal law to address the problem of violent crime in your district," Sessions continued. "Further guidance and support in executing this priority — including an updated memo on charging for all criminal cases— will be forthcoming."

As Politico reports, this likely means the reversal of former Attorney General Eric Holder's guidance to prosecutors allowing them to make charges that would not trigger mandatory minimum sentences, long prison terms that kick in for certain quantities of drugs. "My take is the Holder [policy] is toast," explained Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University. "Holder said you don't have to charge mandatory minimums and it looks like [Sessions is] going to say, 'Oh, yes, you do have to.'"

Sessions is a hardline drug warrior whose Justice Department has already announced a federal crackdown on state-legalized recreational marijuana. Mandatory minimum sentencing has come under significant criticism across the political spectrum in recent years and is a major contributor to prison overcrowding. To learn more about mandatory minimums, see this explainer from The Week's Dan Stewart.