In 2013, then US Attorney General Eric Holder’s Smart on Crime Initiative was aimed at encouraging shorter sentences for non-violent offenders, freeing up resources to be used for the sentencing and incarceration of more serious, violent criminals. Holder had asked prosecutors to assess non-violent offenders and their conduct as individuals and outlined exceptions to mandatory minimum sentences. What he did was essentially ask prosecutors to view those charged with crimes as single entities, to look at each crime, each person’s past and present conduct, to see the person before them as an entire human being, not just as the crime they committed.
Now, here comes US Attorney General Jeff Sessions who I’m sure wants to “make his mark” in Washington, with a new Charging and Sentencing Policy that threatens to undo Holder’s Smart on Crime Initiative.
The reason Sessions gives for establishing the new Charging and Sentencing Policy for the Dept. of Justice is “it ensures that the Dept. enforces the law and fairly and consistently advances public safety and promotes respect for our legal system.”
Sessions new order asks prosecutors to” charge and pursue the most readily provable offenses, which by definition are those that carry the most substantial guideline sentences, including maximum sentences.” According to Sessions, “this policy affirms our responsibility to enforce law that is moral and just and produces consistency.” He then goes on to add “I have given our prosecutors discretion to avoid sentences that would result in injustice.”
As I see it, as long as current sentencing guidelines for anyone charged with a sex offense remain in their current state, substantial and maximum, this policy change is going to have enormous consequences. There seems to be nothing “moral and just” about it. I don’t see prosecutors going out of their way to “avoid sentences that would result in an injustice.” Instead, I see prosecutors going after “readily provable offenses” like CP internet crimes where the computer evidence is right there and current mandatory minimum sentences already put people away for far too long.
While Eric Holder’s Smart on Crime Initiative helped reduce the federal prison population, Session’s policy change will surely increase it. We will once again be putting more people away longer for non-violent, non-contact offenses.
I lack confidence that laws pertaining to those charged with sex offenses will be enforced “fairly and consistently”. If anything, I think that sex offenses will be increasingly seen as “easy prey and an easy paycheck” for prosecutors. Sessions himself says “this policy advances public safety” but we all know that when it comes to public safety there is the media hype of sex offenders and children’s safety that we must continually contend with. Long sentences and sex offender labels haven’t proven to make anyone safer. We know that. Why doesn’t Washington?
Jeff Sessions new policy threatens to derail any progress that’s been made in the past in terms of charging and sentencing for all offenders including those accused of sex offenses. Congress needs to “undo” this policy.
It’s fine that Jeff Sessions wants to make his mark in Washington, but he should do it with a sound, carefully researched and thought out policy change not just and I have to say it because it’s Washington after all, “grandstanding and showboating” just for the sake of making his mark.
Sometimes Mr. Sessions, some marks are just “skid-marks”.