Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is pushing back against the planned bipartisan rollback of jail sentencing that will put violent drug offenders back out on the streets.
On his Wednesday morning radio show, Bill Bennett highlighted an important speech by Sessions which Bennett said turned the sentencing debate “on its head.”
“Excluding prosecutions in the magistrate courts,” Sessions said:
The six month average was nearly 32 percent lower at the end of 2015 than 5 years ago. We hadn’t cut the number of drug prosecutors, we didn’t cut the number of DEA agents. This is policy that softens the enforcement of drug crimes against what we’ve been doing for 25 years. And it’s having an impact and I’m afraid it’s going to continue.
“Make no mistake,” Sessions continued, “federal prisons are not filled with low-level, non-violent drug possessors. According to the bureau of justice statistics … 99.7 percent of drug offenders in federal prison at the end of fiscal year 2012 were convicted of drug-trafficking offenses, not drug possession.”
Bennett said he was flabbergasted by the statistics:
This [speech] turned this thing on its head, people have this so backwards. You hear this all the time, “oh, all the money spent on law enforcement all the prisons are filled with these low-level drug users.” Not true! Smoke a joint and the odds you’re going to prison are virtually the same as if you don’t smoke a joint. It’s just a huge myth out that there.
Sessions pointed out in his speech that heroin, not low-level drugs like pot, is fueling the rise in inmates and is also fueling the rising violence. Sessions said:
According to DEA’s 2015 Threat Assessment, Mexican drug cartels “control drug trafficking across the Southwest Border and are moving to expand their presence in the United States, particularly in heroin markets.” … Our unsecured borders make it easy for the cartels to flood our country with cheap heroin, and the administration has made it clear that officers are not to deviate from the President’s lawless immigration policy.
“We need to enforce our laws,” the Alabama Senator added, “and we have to make the consequences of drug trafficking a deterrent … Law enforcement plays a critical role in it. This means supporting, not blocking the efforts of law enforcement to do their jobs and giving them the tools to arrest drug traffickers and be effective at the border, putting them in jail, not giving them early release so they can commit more crimes.”
“We have to stop people from becoming addicts in the first place, and we can’t let the fact that we have a heroin abuse epidemic cause us to forget that we have a drug trafficking epidemic too. Law enforcement is prevention,” the Senator concluded.
Sessions isn’t alone in opposing this push to soften sentencing for drug crimes. Recently Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) joined his Senate colleague in condemning the move.
“It would be very dangerous and unwise to proceed with the Senate Judiciary bill, which would lead to the release of thousands of violent felons,” Cotton told Politico on January 25. “I think it’s no surprise that Republicans are divided on this question … [but] I don’t think any Republicans want legislation that is going to let out violent felons, which this bill would do.”
A group of law enforcement organizations also denounced the policy, saying the move is a strike against public safety.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston, or email the author at email@example.com.