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Federal Prison Population will Expand under new DOJ Directive

May 12, 2017
The Sentencing Project condemns DOJ’s return to harsh enforcement of low-level drug crimes

The Sentencing Project Condemns DOJ’s Return to Harsh Enforcement of Low-level Drug Crimes

Washington, D.C.— Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, issued the following statement following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement to reverse the Department of Justice’s Smart on Crime Initiative:

“Attorney General Sessions’ decision to end the Smart on Crime initiative, despite warnings of the impact of reinvigorating the War on Drugs from criminologists and advocates, will again fill federal prisons with people convicted of low-level drug offenses serving excessive sentences. Sessions’ decision to reverse the Obama-era directive that deprioritized the Department of Justice’s use of harsh mandatory minimum sentences in low-level drug cases is a huge misdirection.

In recent years the Department of Justice had achieved a substantial population reduction in its overcrowded prison system. The decrease was produced by several policy changes orchestrated by the U.S. Sentencing Commission and through the now-rescinded DOJ directive known as Smart on Crime. Reversing this directive will exacerbate prison overcrowding, increase spending and jeopardize the safety of staff and prisoners.

Research over many decades has demonstrated the deterrent effect of the criminal justice system is a function of the certainty of punishment, not its severity. The new policy shift will have little impact on public safety, while adding exorbitant fiscal and human costs to an already bloated and destructive criminal justice system.”

Marc Mauer is the executive director of The Sentencing Project, a national criminal justice research and advocacy organization. The Sentencing Project works for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration. 

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