AG Sessions calls out Memphis, local lawmakers push back

AG Sessions calls out Memphis, local lawmakers push back

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited Memphis while discussing a plan to cut back on crime.

Sessions is directing federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against the vast majority of suspects, a reversal of Obama-era policies that is sure to send more people to prison and for much longer terms.

Sessions said his directive is a "key part of President Trump's promise to keep America safe."

However, some local leaders agree tougher sentencing is not the way to reduce crime.

Sessions on Friday explained his new memo to prosecutors, saying a tougher approach is necessary for public safety. He cited the country's opioid addiction and rising violent crime rates in "Baltimore, Chicago, Memphis, and Milwaukee."

Sessions said drugs and violence go hand-in-hand. His memo tells prosecutors to charge steeper crimes that would trigger long, mandatory minimum prison sentences.

Memphis City Councilman Berlin Boyd said Sessions plan to reduce crime is misguided.

"I find it quite insulting for him to categorize Memphis with some of the larger cities like Chicago," Boyd said.

Boyd said throwing the book at people charged with drug offenses is not the solution to violent crime.

"Just saying we are going to incarcerate you doesn't fix the problem it actually increases the problem," Boyd said.

Boyd said it's important to find alternatives, and ways to help people rehabilitate so they can productively re-enter society.

U.S. Attorney Laurence Laurenzi sent out the following statement supporting Sessions' policy change:

"As the Attorney General noted, Memphis is not alone in facing challenges posed by gangs, violent criminals, and drug traffickers.  The Department's charging and sentencing policy, announced today, empowers federal prosecutors to use their discretion and judgment to enforce the laws passed by Congress.  The Attorney General's memo underscores that there are serious consequences for those who commit violence against others, distribute illegal drugs in our community, or prey upon vulnerable victims.  The professionals in the U.S. Attorney's Office will continue our ongoing work with federal, state and local partners to reverse our crime trends and protect the innocent, in a manner that accords with the law and promotes respect for our legal system."

Congressman Steve Cohen disagrees. He released the following statement criticizing Sessions' policy change:

"Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions' one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work. Harsher sentences for non-violent drug crimes cost taxpayers more money and waste limited resources that are needed to go after more dangerous, violent offenders who put the public at risk. The beneficiaries of these policies are often private prisons who profit from locking up more inmates, disproportionately affecting people of color. Attorney General Sessions said, 'we know that drugs and crime go hand-in-hand…" That's because some drugs are inappropriately labeled as illegal, making those who use them criminals. Illegal drugs result in organized, black-market drug trading and the use of guns, similar to the way Al Capone and the gangsters operated when alcohol was illegal under prohibition. Crime increased during prohibition as Eliot Ness and the federal agents enforced prohibition laws. The thirteen failed years of prohibition in this country are analogous to how we treat marijuana today. If we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. We need to take marijuana out of the criminal justice system, so people who use marijuana are no longer labeled as criminals. Attorney General Sessions is preserving the government drug operation at the expense of the people. Poverty and crime go hand-in-hand, not drugs and crime. Many of the programs proposed by the Trump Administration will hurt people struggling with poverty as opposed to creating the kind of jobs needed to increase economic opportunity. If the Administration wants to help improve economically distressed neighborhoods, it should be focused on creating jobs and improving the economy, not building walls, eliminating and reducing health care, and locking people up for non-violent low-level drug offenses."

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