Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates has publicly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for reinstating harsh mandatory minimum drug sentences aimed at curbing violent crime throughout the U.S.
In a Washington Post op-ed titled “Making America Scared Again Won’t Make Us Safer” published Friday, Yates argued that incarcerating low-level drug couriers is counterproductive, expensive and damaging to American communities.
“Not only are violent crime rates still at historic lows — nearly half of what they were when I became a federal prosecutor in 1989 — but there is also no evidence that the increase in violent crime some cities have experienced is the result of drug offenders not serving enough time in prison,” Yates wrote.
“Every dollar spent imprisoning a low-level nonviolent drug offender for longer than necessary is a dollar we don’t have to investigate and prosecute serious threats, from child predators to terrorists,” Yates continued. “It’s a dollar we don’t have to support state and local law enforcement for cops on the street, who are the first lines of defense against violent crime. And it’s a dollar we don’t have for crime prevention or recidivism reduction within our prison system, essential components of building safe communities.”
Last month, Sessions in a memorandum ordered federal prosecutors nationwide to pursue the “most serious, readily provable offense” in drug cases.
“It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” he wrote at the time.
Many were quick to label the directive as the new War on Drugs. Yates in her op-ed encouraged lawmakers to consider the “human costs” of the initiative.
“More than 2 million children are growing up with a parent behind bars, including 1 in 9 African American children,” she wrote. “Huge numbers of Americans are being housed in prisons far from their home communities, creating precisely the sort of community instability where violent crime takes root.”
Yates said that throughout her career as a prosecutor at the Justice Department, she charged high-level, international narcotics traffickers and had “no hesitation” asking judges to impose long prison sentences.
“While there is always room to debate the most effective approach to criminal justice, that debate should be based on facts, not fear. It’s time to move past the campaign-style rhetoric of being ‘tough’ or ‘soft’ on crime,” she concluded.