BALTIMORE, MD — The NAACP released the following statement regarding the DOJ’s decision to promote the use of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. The decision by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions requiring federal prosecutors to pursue the most severe charges possible, regardless of whether they would expose low-level offenders to mandatory minimums, represents not only a threat to public safety, but exacerbates mass incarceration.
This decision by DOJ to overturn previous previous Justice Department guidance will lead to thousands of people spending unnecessary years of imprisonment while doing nothing to advance public safety.
“The Attorney General’s directive suggests that this long ugly era of mass incarceration now has eternal life. Contradicting commonsense, conscience, and experience of red and blue state governors, this new policy takes us quickly backward,” said NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks.
Earlier DOJ Guidance that discouraged the federal prosecution of low-level drug offenders resulted in a 14% drop in federal prosecution of drug cases and a focus on more serious offenses and more dangerous offenders. Since reaching its historic peak in 2013, reforms in drug prosecution and sentencing as well as the Obama administration’s clemency initiative led to a significant decrease in the federal prison population, which had dropped 14% (to 188,800) by April 2017.
The Sessions memo essentially guarantees a larger federal prison population, ensuring that money that would be better used on preventing crime will be spent imprisoning people who are no risk to the communities. The memo takes us back to the “War on Drugs” mentality that has led to our current age of mass incarceration, making the US the world leader in the number of people incarcerated. The racial disparities in arrest, prosecution, and incarceration have led to the devastation of African American families and communities. The NAACP is not ready to move backward. We must work to dismantle our system of mass incarceration, instead of exacerbating the problem. We will not allow the Attorney General to turn the clock back on federal criminal justice reform.