Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Dick Durbin of Illlinois, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont have written a letter to Attorney General Sessions asking him to reconsider changes he’s promised to sentencing guidelines which would undo President Obama’s work on decreasing the prevalence of mandatory minimum sentences.
This is not the first time Cory Booker and Jeff Sessions haven’t seen eye to eye, as you’ll remember from Booker’s history-making testimony at the Attorney General’s confirmation hearings.
The Trump administration made a rallying cry of “Law & Order” during the campaign season, and this was manifest in Attorney General Sessions’s March 8th memo to federal prosecutors promising new directives which would compel government attorneys always to seek the most severe punishment available. This would roll back President Obama’s “Smart On Crime” initiative which defines the current approach, built on the idea that the mandatory minimum sentences which took precedence in the ’90s disproportionately affected blacks and Latinos, incarcerating them for long sentences for often non-violent crimes, without necessarily reducing the crime rate nationwide.
The effects of these mandatory minimum sentences were illustrated in the REVOLT News documentary #FreeMichelleWest.
In the Senators’ letter to Attorney General Sessions, obtained by Politico, they write:
“Changes to current drug charging policies that lead to more mandatory minimum penalties in low-level, nonviolent drug cases will not increase public safety and will only increase taxpayer spending on our bloated federal prison system… “We are concerned about a possible shift in the Justice Department’s treatment of federal drug cases and the specter that mandatory minimum penalties may once again be used by the Justice Department on a routine basis as tools to prosecute low-level nonviolent drug offenses.”
This debate rests on two disparate views of the state of crime in the United States. The Trump administration’s view on crime was expressed pointedly in the President’s inaugural address, which spoke of “American carnage” and used statistics of an increased homicide rate in certain cities to claim a nationwide epidemic of out of control crime in the streets.
The Senators fundamentally disagreed, writing in their letter:
“The facts indicate that concerns of a national crime wave are premature… While these trends suggest a need to understand how and why homicides have increased in some cities, we should not lose sight of the fact that crime rates remain near historic lows. Even more, a rise in violent crime in some cities in no way supports a need to charge more mandatory minimums to deter nonviolent drug trafficking crimes nationwide.”
According to the FBI in the most recently published US Crimes Report, there was a spike in murders in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and D.C., which led to an increase in violent crime, but otherwise the overall crime rate in the United States is at near historically low levels, and the lowest in over 20 years.