Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates harshly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ stance on criminal justice reform in a recent op-ed.
In a recent op-ed published in the Washington Post, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates condemned Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ hardline approach against drug offenses. Yates briefly served as acting attorney general this year after working in the Justice Department as an assistant U.S. attorney, U.S. attorney and deputy attorney general from 1989 to 2017.
In the op-ed, titled “Making America scared again won’t make us safer,” Yates slammed a memo Sessions’ wrote in May, in which he announced that that he was rolling back the charging and sentencing guidelines from the Obama-era and instructing federal prosecutors to charge drug-related defendants with “the most serious, readily provable offense.”
Yates wrote that Sessions’ reinstatement of the mandatory drug sentences that were originally imposed during the 1980’s was “stoking fear by claiming that as a result of then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s Smart on Crime policy, the United States is gripped by a rising epidemic of violent crime that can only be cured by putting more drug offenders in jail for more time.”
“That argument just isn’t supported by the facts. 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 made note of the findings in a recent bipartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission study, which found that drug defendants with shorter sentences were less likely to commit crimes when released than those sentenced with more severe penalties.
Sessions had written an op-ed piece in the Washington Post last month to justify his more hardline approach against drug offenses. In it, he argued that violent crime in the U.S. has surged as a result of Holder’s policy, and that the only way to address it is to jail more drug offenders and impose harsher sentences. Statistics, however, show otherwise. According to data released by the FBI, between 1993 and 2015, violent crime plummeted by 50 percent.
“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. Justice and the safety of our communities depend on it,” Yates wrote.
Yates argued that Holder’s Smart on Crime policy did severely prosecute the most dangerous defendants that had the greatest impact on communities, including kingpins and drug dealers with guns. She pointed out, however, that “there’s a big difference between a cartel boss and a low-level courier,” and argued that telling prosecutors to seek mandatory minimum sentences in all cases would result in many low-level defendants “serving far longer sentences than are necessary – 20 years, 30 years, even mandatory life sentences, for nonviolent drug offenses.” Instead, prosecutors should be able to use their discretion and not seek mandatory minimum sentences for lower-level, nonviolent offenders, she wrote.
Imposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses is not just fiscally irresponsible, Yates argued, but undermines public safety and creates community instability.
Sessions has long been a harsh opponent to any loosening of cannabis laws. He wrote a letter to congressional leaders in May requesting that federal protections for medical marijuana states be eliminated so that he could go after states that have passed cannabis policies that conflict with federal laws. More than three of four Americans believe individual states should be able to make their own marijuana laws without federal interference.