In one of his first acts as attorney general, Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” and established that deviation from these principles would require prior approval from the attorney general’s office.Memorandum from U.S. Attorney General Sessions to All Federal Prosecutors, “Department Charging and Sentencing Policy” (2017).
Sessions wrote: “By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”Memorandum from U.S. Attorney General Sessions to All Federal Prosecutors, “Department Charging and Sentencing Policy” (2017).
He justified this change in charging and sentencing policy, which he characterized as “a return to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress—plain and simple,” as necessary to address what he termed “the increase in violent crime.”U.S. Department of Justice, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks on Violent Crime in Memphis, TN,” May 25, 2017.
(A 2017 analysis by the Vera Institute of Justice found that although several cities have experienced increases in murder rates, the nation is not in the midst of a new crime wave.)Bruce Frederick, Measuring Public Safety: Responsibly Interpreting Statistics on Violent Crime (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2017).
Sessions’ decision has drawn the ire of Democrats and Republicans alike. Former Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the new policy as “dumb on crime” and “proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky, “Sessions Issues Sweeping New Criminal Charging Policy,” Washington Post, May 12, 2017.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) stressed that mandatory minimums “have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long” and predicted that Sessions’ policy “will accentuate that injustice.”Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky, “Sessions Issues Sweeping New Criminal Charging Policy,” Washington Post, May 12, 2017.