Former Attorney General Eric Holder slammed the current leader of the Justice Department’s decision to roll back policies he had implemented as part of a broader effort to reform the criminal justice system.
Calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new sentencing and charging memo “unwise” and “ill-informed,” Mr. Holder said the change in policy “is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime.”
In a statement on the new policy, announced Friday, Mr. Holder said the decision “ignores a rare bipartisan political consensus that has formed around sentencing reform effort and will take this nation back to a discredited past.”
Mr. Holder’s policy changes, made as part of the Obama administration’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, were meant to discourage harsh sentences for certain drug-related offenses. One such policy rescinded Friday by Mr. Sessions, directed prosecutors not to include total drug quantity amounts in criminal charges when doing so would trigger mandatory minimum sentences under certain circumstances — such as if the defendant’s actions did not involve violence or a threat of violence, or if the person had no significant ties to drug-trafficking organizations or gangs.
Mr. Holder was critical of Mr. Sessions’ approach, which instead directs prosecutors to charge the most serious, provable offense in each case. Under the Sessions memo, prosecutors do have discretion to seek departures from the standard, but it requires they receive supervisory approval and document the reason for any departure in each case file.
Mr. Holder, citing Justice Department data, said since implementation of the Smart on Crime directive in 2013, prosecutors have used the discretion provided in his memo to pursue more serious drug cases.
“The data showed that while they brought fewer indictments carrying a mandatory minimum sentence, the prosecutions of high-level drug defendants had risen and that cooperation and plea rates remained effectively the same,” Mr. Holder said. “These reversals will be both substantively and financially ruinous, setting the Department back on track to again spending one-third of its budget on incarcerating people, rather than preventing, detecting, or investigating crime.”
He urge Congress to take action to enact criminal justice reform efforts that were thwarted last year, impart by opposition from Mr. Sessions when he was a senator.