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April 16, 2017

Reviewing the realities of a new sheriff in charge at the US Department of Justice

The Hill has this lengthy new article, headlined "Sweeping change at DOJ under Sessions," reviewing various ways in which the new Attorney General has set forth new policies and set a new tone for the work of the Department of Justice. Regular readers will find everything in the article familiar, but some of the commentary about DOJ changes are still new and notable. Here are excerpts:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has brought sweeping change to the Department of Justice. In just two months as the nation’s top cop, Sessions has moved quickly to overhaul the policies and priorities set by the Obama administration....

Alex Whiting, faculty co-director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School, said it appears Sessions is resurrecting the tough on crime policies last seen during the George W. Bush administration.  “Obama moved away from that approach, and I think in the criminal justice world there seemed to be a consensus between the right and left that those policies, those rigid policies of the war on drugs and trying to get the highest sentence all the time, had failed,” he said.  “I don’t know if he is really going to be able to persuade the department to follow his lead on this.”

In March, Sessions asked the remaining U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Obama to resign.  While previous administrations took the same step, Whiting questioned whether Sessions would be able find 94 prosecutors who will back the DOJ’s new approach.  “He can order and it will have an effect, but how far this gets implemented and with what kind of energy I think is really an open question, and if they will be able to persuade the rank and file to return in a full-fledge way to those policies,” he said.

In a statement to The Hill, DOJ spokesman Ian Prior said Sessions and the Justice Department are focused on fighting violent crime and protecting the public. “When it comes to sanctuary cities, all we are requiring is that they, just like every other individual in the United States, follow Congress’ duly enacted laws,” he said. “If requiring individuals and entities to follow the law and combating violent crime are seen as dramatic reversals, then we fully support such a sea change.”

While the attorney general has acknowledged that overall crimes rates are at historic lows, he has warned that trend is about to reverse. Even if that’s true, Inimai Chettiar director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice argued that arresting and incarcerating people is not the solution. “Mass incarceration is not contributing to mass crime declines, but it doesn’t appear Jeff Sessions knows that,” she said.

Advocates of scaling back mandatory minimums for prison sentences are expecting to see a major shift in the way crimes are prosecuted. “To the extent the Obama administration was saying, let’s be a little more judicious in the use of mandatory minimums, I think Sessions plans to put his foot on the gas and apply them anywhere and everywhere,” said Kevin Ring, vice president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner raised eyebrows late last month when he took a meeting with Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R- Utah), the lead sponsors on the criminal justice reform bill that stalled in the last session of Congress.  While Sessions has never been a fan of efforts to reduce mandatory minimums, Chettiar called the meeting encouraging. “Kushner is supportive of criminal justice reform. … I think it’s possible there’s a strong advocate there,” she said.

Ring, however, isn’t holding his breath. “One day he’s on the Hill talking sentencing reform then next day he’s visiting the Middle East,” Ring said of Kushner. “He’s got two easy gigs — passing sentencing reform and bringing peace to the Middle East. Good luck with that.

Law enforcement groups that support Sessions, meanwhile, say the new attorney general is focused on the right things. “I think Sessions has brought a new focus to the core mission of the department, which is to make sure the nation is safe and secure in its law and make sure law enforcement operations are focused on the thing that matters most, preventing crime,” said Jonathan Thompson, executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Thompson said Sessions is taking a more holistic approach in preventing crime. “I think there’s a tendency to look at people who are incarcerated and say I really wish they weren’t there, but unfortunately they make personal choices,” he said. “The attorney general is saying you have to look at that end. You have a crime problem that could be growing and how do we respond to it? Obviously something worked.”

UPDATE: Over at Crime & Consequences, Bill Otis has this lengthy new post discussing at length everything that he thinks is wrong about the comments by Alex Whiting reprinted above near the start of the excerpt.  Everyone interested in the work of DOJ should check out Bill's post, and here is how it concludes:

Finally, I don't know who Prof. Whiting talks to at DOJ, but the career people I talk to are thrilled with Jeff Sessions' priorities, and are chomping at the bit -- not reluctant -- "to follow his lead on this."

If the sentencing "reform" people had a good case on the merits, why do they need to resort to this amount of deceit?

April 16, 2017 at 06:43 PM | Permalink


Sessions is not an Ivy indoctrinated moron. Nevertheless, he is still very stupid on crime, very smart on rent seeking. I have zero hope for the interests of crime victims, especially black ones, under the leadership of this fool.

Here is one example of his extreme stupidity and ignorance, from the article. "While the attorney general has acknowledged that overall crimes rates are at historic lows, he has warned that trend is about to reverse."

No, you lawyer moron. You are not counting the tens of millions of identity thefts, nor are you counting the millions of police reports of violent crime being thrown in the trash at the orders of Democratic Party politicians.

Our nation's crime policy is still being set by the stupidest group of people in our country, stupider than Life Skills students, learning to eat food with a spoon.

Something Sessions can do. At least restore the integrity, the usability, and the reliability of the Crime Victim Survey. At least, we can get an real count of crime. Add identity theft to the questionnaire.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 16, 2017 8:20:38 PM

He talks the talk, but has no clue how over cooked the dederal guidelines are.

Pretty much like his predessors.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Apr 16, 2017 11:47:43 PM

With respect, for those interested in "in the work of DOJ," Bill Otis is someone you should take with more grains of salt that is healthy.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 17, 2017 10:17:24 AM

More drive-by BS from Joe.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 17, 2017 11:30:56 AM

Joe. A 40% across the board cut in crime, and the saving of thousands of black murder victims lives over decades is not failure. It is the greatest achievement of the American lawyer profession of the 20th Century. The real Black Lives Matter movement is the Sentencing Commission and the state versions.

A diabetic has tight sugar level control, after being rescued from a diabetic coma by drastic measures, then being placed on an automated implanted insulin pump, involving no human decision making. As a result of his tight diabetes control, no organs are failing. As a result, doctors are losing their jobs.

Let's remove the insulin pump, better yet, let's have all pumps recalled. No more empty hospital beds or unemployed doctors.

The result of the decarceration movement, with just 3% reduction, has been extreme.


And, in a trendy section, not a violent neighborhood,


All weasels must disclose the fraction of their income coming from government.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 17, 2017 11:57:19 AM

Moral relativism is alive and well in law enforcement. It pivots by party.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 17, 2017 2:41:20 PM

My Facebook ban just ended. Fewer comments here. However, I expect to be back in full force in 3 days, the average time it has taken me to get banned on Facebook, about 10 times now.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 17, 2017 4:14:39 PM

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