Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced a striking change of policy Friday concerning how alleged criminals are to be charged with crimes going forward. In a memo Sessions sent to over five thousand federal prosecutors across the country, he instructed them to seek the toughest, longest penalties possible for the most easily proven allegations against each defendant. Critics claim that this is a move aimed at packing jails with nonviolent, low-level drug offenders.
This directive reverses a standard set by former Attorney General Eric Holder under the Obama administration. Holder’s “Smart on Crime” policy intended to ease overcrowded prisons and facilitate rehabilitation by taking into account each offender’s situation in context. If the accused had not resorted to violence, been a member of a large-scale trafficking gang or cartel, or had a lengthy criminal history, Holder’s policies allowed prosecutors leeway to avoid charging defendants with crimes that would trigger long, mandatory sentences that were unlikely to benefit either the offender or society in general. After all, the prisons were already overcrowded.
A diverse array of names across the American political spectrum, from former president Obama to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to the Koch brothers, came out against the Sessions memo. Paul objected to the way the directive would end up “unfairly and disproportionately” packing jails with minorities. (This, despite Rand Paul’s vote to confirm Sessions to spite Democrats who brought up his racist past.) For their part, the Koch brothers are, as ever, worried that they might have to pay for all of this.
Friday’s directive came a mere two months after Sessions announced the rollback of another Obama-era policy to end federal contracts with privately run prisons. Sessions stated in February that the Obama decision “impaired the government’s ability to meet the prison system’s future needs.” Clearly, as the man in charge of policies related to charging and sentencing defendants, Sessions would be in a position to know if the “future needs” of the justice system lay in packing jails and prisons with low-level, non-violent, likely-minority drug offenders.
Jeff Sessions Overturns Memo To Eliminate Private Prisons, posted by Wochit Politics
What is less obvious is how our “future needs” can be filled appropriately and effectively by a system that is less concerned with fixing broken Americans (or Americans living with a broken economic and social system) and more concerned with turning those Americans into a product that fills private pockets with taxpayer dollars. As with any policy change, “following the money” is a good way to understand what is really going on. For-profit prisons are heavily incentivized to keep the prisoners coming, since turning off the flow of convicts (and their labor) would mean going out of business. Packing jails with fewer people every year should be good news to a society that prides itself on freedom, prioritizes rehabilitation, and is truly interested in reducing crime. Instead, here in the United States, it creates a capitalist crisis. That’s severely messed up.
Apparently, regulatory capture is only good when your team does it.
While Jeff Sessions figures out new ways to feed for-profit Molochs with a growing number of our young people, I’m sure many of our oh-so-moral majority feel like none of this could ever happen to them. Don’t be so sure. After all, we now have police on the streets who have been trained to know you’re high, even when you haven’t smoked any dope whatsoever. By the time you’re arrested, hauled off to the lockup, and finally get to pee in a cup, your day, if not your career, is ruined. If you’re right but the authorities “know” you’re wrong, do you want to live in Jeff Sessions’ world?
Whatever you do, don’t laugh. When packing jails is a priority, that could be a crime, too.