Jeff Sessions made it clear when he was appointed attorney general that there would be a crackdown on crime and a rollback of Obama administration policies, but five months into Sessions’ term, state governments all across the country are still passing soft-sentencing reform–with Republican support.
Republicans and Democrats found common ground on criminal justice reform during the Obama administration. The country’s highest-ever incarceration rates cost taxpayers tens of billions every year, a huge reform incentive for Republicans. The prospect of getting non-violent, first-time drug offenders out of prison drew Democratic support as well.
Now, as Sessions tries to implement his “tough-on-crime” reforms, he’s up against several years of legislative momentum from both sides of the aisle.
The Republican-controlled Louisiana House passed a massive 10-bill criminal justice reform package in May to decrease the state’s prison population by 10 percent over the next decade.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bail reform measure in Illinois on June 6 to get more people out of jails. While Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed SB 603 on June 5 to reduce Oklahoma’s recidivism rate by matching restitution payments to an inmate’s ability to pay.
Virtually the only “tough-on-crime” policy enacted, passed, or adopted since the Trump administration arrived came from an order Sessions made himself, mandating that DOJ prosecutors pursue the most severe sentencing possible. Now Republican and Democratic Senators are calling on him to rescind the order. (RELATED: Jeff Sessions ‘Surprised’ At Backlash To His Marijuana Rhetoric)
Sessions’ March order instructed prosecutors to pursue the most severe penalties for the most severe crimes that any criminal could be convicted of, a policy the Obama administration had tried to end. The result will be more non-violent drug offenders getting sent to prison on mandatory minimum sentences.
Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul joined with Democrat colleagues Cory Booker and Richard Durbin in a June 7 letter requesting that Sessions rethink the order.
“The Department’s policy is based on the premise that ‘it is of the utmost importance to enforce the law fairly and consistently.’ We agree,” the senators wrote. “The problem is that, in many cases, current law requires nonviolent first-time offenders to receive longer sentences than violent criminals.”
The senators asked the attorney general several questions including why he had changed the policy, and whether he had conducted a study regarding the consequences of his change, but they left no question as to their thoughts on the order.
“The policy overvalues consistency at the expense of an individualized assessment of the appropriate penalty by likely reducing prosecutors discretion to decide which charges are appropriate to pursue,” the letter read. “The Department’s new policy ignores the growing bipartisan view that federal sentencing laws are in grave need of reform.”
Sessions is required to respond to the senators’ letter by July 7.
Right On Crime, a conservative justice reform group that has criticized drug offense sentencing, did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment. Lee’s office has also not respond to a request for comment.