Sessions Set to Increase Prosecution in New Justice Department Memo

March 9, 2017

Directive Comes as Senators Push for Reforms Through Criminal Justice Commission

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo yesterday directing federal prosecutors to more aggressively fight violent crime. The directive indicates further changes may be coming, including a reversal of Obama-era policies to focus fewer resources on nonviolent drug offenses, which many experts believe would waste government resources and increase unnecessary incarceration.

Sessions points to rising crime rates as a main factor behind the directive, a misleading assertion that he and President Donald Trump repeated often throughout the campaign and in their first weeks in office. Although the murder rate has increased in recent years, a Brennan Center analysis of 2016 crime rates found the spike last year was caused largely by Chicago.

“We absolutely need to focus on the most violent offenders. But Sessions’ aggressive stance on crime, based on misleading statistics, shows we could be headed toward policies that don’t target the problem, such as another ‘war on drugs,’” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “Research shows focusing on drug crimes does not make us safer. This was a major factor in making the United States the world’s number one jailer, and we should not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

The instructions to prosecutors came after a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Wednesday morning to create a National Criminal Justice Commission, which would examine the criminal justice system and propose recommendations for reform. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), one of the bill’s sponsors, said he hopes the commission will “reduce crime, improve public safety and promote more equitable criminal justice practices.”

The Brennan Center called for a similar commission in a 2014 report, 15 Executive Actions.

For more information, or to speak to Inimai Chettiar or other Brennan Center experts, contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or 646-292-8316.