On May 10, 2017 US Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum that directed Justice Department prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” This means that federal prosecutors have been instructed to indict defendants on the highest charges available, charges that could result in longer sentences within the parameters of existing sentencing guidelines. This directive is a departure from President Obama’s administration’s guidelines for federal prosecutors that were designed to decrease harsh sentences for low-level drug offenders. The memo also instructs prosecutors that if they wish to pursue lesser charges for defendants, they would need to obtain approval from a U.S. attorney, assistant attorney or another supervisor. The concern being raised by criminal justice reform advocates, across political party lines, is that this directive has the potential to increase the length of time it takes to prosecute- using limited time and resources, surge the U. S. prison population, do little to improve public safety and increase tax payer costs for incarceration. According to the Sentencing Project, individuals incarcerated for a drug convictions consist of half the total federal prison population. Most of these individuals are not high level actors and have limited criminal records beyond those particular convictions.
This is an issue Towards Employment will continue to follow given that on any given year, 60% of those we serve have some sort of criminal record, many of whom, were convicted of drug related offenses. In 2016, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections reports that 28% of those committed to state prison have drug related offense, the highest percentage compared with any other type of offense. Although Sessions’ memo does not necessarily apply to those convicted at the county or state level, our hope is that this is not a trend in sentencing, providing harsher sentences for those who need treatment over punishment.
To read more on this issue:
See AG Sessions’ Memo: https://www.aclu.org/other/jeff-sessions-charging-and-sentencing-policy
To learn more about drug policy: https://www.sentencingproject.org/issues/drug-policy/