Jeff Sessions rolls back drug sentencing reforms

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors to take the most aggressive approach possible against federal criminal defendants. The policy change will result in lengthier prison sentences for drug offenders and likely reverse a recent drop in the federal prison population.

The new policy replaces the approach of the Justice Department during the Obama administration under former Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. They gave federal prosecutors more leeway to decide when it was appropriate to charge crimes that trigger mandatory minimums, which automatically result in set prison terms.

“This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency,” Sessions wrote in a new memo. “This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

Under Sessions, if prosecutors want to divert from the new policy and not pursue the most serious charge available, they must get specific approval from the U.S. attorney or an assistant attorney general. Holder’s policy only required charging decisions to be reviewed by a supervisory attorney.