April 9, 2017
Reviewing the "tough-and-tougher" sentencing perspectives of those now leading the Justice Department
The Washington Post has this extended new article reviewing a lot of the old tough-on-crime comments by AG Jeff Sessions and his new right-hand man, Steve Cook. The article is headlined "How Jeff Sessions wants to bring back the war on drugs," and here is how it gets started (with one important phrase emphasized at the end):
When the Obama administration launched a sweeping policy to reduce harsh prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, rave reviews came from across the political spectrum. Civil rights groups and the Koch brothers praised Obama for his efforts, saying he was making the criminal justice system more humane.
But there was one person who watched these developments with some horror. Steven H. Cook, a former street cop who became a federal prosecutor based in Knoxville, Tenn., saw nothing wrong with how the system worked — not the life sentences for drug charges, not the huge growth of the prison population. And he went everywhere — Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, congressional hearings, public panels — to spread a different gospel. “The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed,” Cook said at a criminal justice panel at The Washington Post last year.
The Obama administration largely ignored Cook, who was then president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. But he won’t be overlooked anymore. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has brought Cook into his inner circle at the Justice Department, appointing him to be one of his top lieutenants to help undo the criminal justice policies of Obama and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. As Sessions has traveled to different cities to preach his tough-on-crime philosophy, Cook has been at his side.
Sessions has yet to announce specific policy changes, but Cook’s new perch speaks volumes about where the Justice Department is headed. Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences. The two men are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration.
Crime is near historic lows in the United States, but Sessions says that the spike in homicides in several cities, including Chicago, is a harbinger of a “dangerous new trend” in America that requires a tough response. “Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad,” Sessions said to law enforcement officials in a speech in Richmond last month. “It will destroy your life.”
Advocates of criminal justice reform argue that Sessions and Cook are going in the wrong direction — back to a strategy that tore apart families and sent low-level drug offenders, disproportionately minority citizens, to prison for long sentences. “They are throwing decades of improved techniques and technologies out the window in favor of a failed approach,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
But Cook, whose views are supported by other federal prosecutors, sees himself as a dedicated assistant U.S. attorney who for years has tried to protect neighborhoods ravaged by crime. He has called FAMM and organizations like it “anti-law enforcement groups.”
The records of Cook and Sessions show that while others have grown eager in recent years to rework the criminal justice system, they have repeatedly fought to keep its toughest edges, including winning a battle in Congress last year to defeat a reform bill. “If hard-line means that my focus is on protecting communities from violent felons and drug traffickers, then I’m guilty,” Cook said in a recent interview with The Post. “I don’t think that’s hard-line. I think that’s exactly what the American people expect of their Department of Justice.”
The phrase I have stressed above is the phrase that ultimately matters most for the foreseeable future of the federal criminal justice system. Though the Attorney General and others senior DOJ officials can and will define and shape the basic policies for federal charging and sentencing, it is local federal prosecutors around the nation who really determine how these policies get implemented and who, collectively, have the greatest impact on prosecutorial and punishment practices. And I surmise that a whole lot of federal prosecutors — not all, but many and perhaps most — embrace the "tough-on-crime" philosophy that AG Sessions espouses more than the "smart-on-crime" mantra that former AG Holder eventually espoused.
April 9, 2017 at 11:57 AM | Permalink
"Crime is near historic lows in the United States,..."
So let's empty the prisons, now?
"Your blood sugar is near historic excellent control."
So, let's stop your insulin, now?
Posted by: David Behar | Apr 9, 2017 6:06:23 PM
No, try this:
"Crime is near historic lows in the United States...."
And federal prosecutions are at 20-year low.
So let's increase federal prosecutions now?
Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Apr 9, 2017 10:21:18 PM
this is interesting.
Doug, did I miss a post you had on this?
Posted by: federalist | Apr 10, 2017 12:23:09 PM
In my opinion: People that take advantage of others need to be taught a lesson, in reference to drugs - the manufacturers and the pushers should be severely punished. The users have generally chosen the life of drugs and they must be responsible for their actions (theft, killing & ect.) and punished accordingly. No one is above the Law of the Land. Sex trafficking could be handled much the same way. This can be applied to almost every problem the people face. We will always have leaders, some good and some bad - today and in the past we have had many bad leaders and they have not been held responsible.
Posted by: LC in Texas | Apr 10, 2017 3:33:36 PM
I did not blog about the Perez cert denial, federalist. I believe I was on the road at the time AND it is not quite a sentencing issue.
Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 10, 2017 3:56:54 PM