President Barack Obama’s deputies are quietly sending fewer criminals to prison while loudly praising a Republican-backed bill that will spring many other criminals out of federal prison, Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions warned on Wednesday.
“The Department of Justice and the Attorney General have directed prosecutors to decline certain cases, and to not pursue the most serious offenses that would be implicated by those prosecutions, thereby also reducing sentencing substantially,” Sessions said at a May 11 press conference.
“We just released under current policies over 46,000 federal drug trafficking offenders and drug gun felons, and we don’t know the impact of that yet” on national crime rates, he said.
“What we’re doing today, is asking: Should we go even further?” he said, adding that “I don’t think at this point in history now is the time to reduce punishment further.”
Sessions held the press conference to build open opposition to the pending “Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act” that would reduce penalties for federal criminals now held in federal prisons.
The bill is backed by Obama, top Republicans including House Speaker Paul Ryan, by many Democrats and by a plethora of left-wing and right-wing advocacy groups — but is being resisted by many legislators who recognize the growing public alarm about crime rates in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington D.C., in cities run by Democrats and across the nation.
Sessions is one of the main legislators opposing the rollback.
“The Senate bill would drastically reduce mandatory minimum sentences for all drug traffickers, even those who are armed and traffic in dangerous drugs like heroin, and provide for the early release of dangerous drug felons currently incarcerated in federal prison,” he said. “This bill doesn’t touch simple possession, because there’s virtually no simple possession cases in federal court.”
“Have we thought this through?” he asked. “There’s no need to weaken these penalties [further], because they’re already on a route of precipitous decline.”
A steady decline in violent crime over the decades has greatly improved Americans’s lives, Sessions said.
Imagine how better this country is with a murder rate half what it was in 1980 already. Imagine how much better it is that we have considerably fewer people destroying their lives with addictive drugs, considerably fewer high school seniors using drugs.
But the prison population has declined by 20,000 since 2013, bringing it to its lowest level since 2006, he said.
The Federal Bureau of Prison predicts it will decline by another 10,000 over the next year, bringing it to its lowest levels since 2004. And it will continue to go down, thanks to retroactive changes in the sentencing guidelines, while crime is not going down, and drug problems are actually increasing.
Nearly every inmate in federal prison for drug-related crimes has been convicted on trafficking charges, he continued.
Federal prosecutors aren’t prosecuting people for minor use offenses. Less than one percent are arrested for simple possession. In March of 2016, only 24 American citizens are serving federal sentences for simple possession, and those were probably pled down from some sort of trafficking offense.
Officials are already working behind the scene to reduce law-enforcement, he said.
Federal drug prosecutions have dropped 21 percent since 2011. Actual prosecutions are down. And if you ask the Attorney General as I did a few months ago: ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Well, we’re working bigger cases.’ But sentencing is down, too, so they must not have been a lot bigger cases. So that’s always an excuse for prosecutors. I’ve heard that song for 30 years.
“I think we’ve gone far enough, and we’re moving too fast. My best judgement, of my many years in law enforcement, is that the bottom of crime rates have been reached, and the rise we’re beginning to see is a long term trend” said Sessions, a former U.S. Attorney and Attorney General of Alabama. “The last thing we need to do is a major reduction in penalties.”