WASHINGTON — More than a dozen state attorneys general sent US Attorney General Jeff Sessions a letter Thursday asking him to rescind criminal charging guidance he sent to prosecutors last week.
Sessions’ guidance, which he announced last Friday, paves the way for more prosecutions of non-violent drug offenders and tougher sentences, specifically rescinding instructions issued by then-President Barack Obama’s administration.
“Charging and sentencing recommendations are bedrock responsibilities of any prosecutor, and I trust our prosecutors in the field to make good judgment,” Sessions said last Friday at a news conference in Washington. “They deserve to be un-handcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington.”
In a brief one-and-a-half-page memo, Sessions outlined his new instructions for charging decisions in federal cases, saying that his new first principle is “that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”
The move swiftly drew outrage from progressives. Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, called Sessions’ newest directive “discriminatory” and said the charging policy previously “destroyed” families.
The attorneys general, who hail from 14 states and the District of Columbia, argued the same, writing, “One-size-fits-all sentencing has, at best, a questionable deterrent effect.”
They continued: “While this policy may seem on the surface to be tough on crime, there is strong data suggesting that it is neither smart on crime nor fair on justice.”
The attorneys general also argue the guidance will specifically affect communities and families of color.
“Beyond being unsound, policies that fail to provide individualized sentencing are also unjust and unfair in application,” they wrote. “Mass incarceration produced by such policies has imposed massive social costs on communities and families, and that cost has fallen disproportionately on people of color.”
At the end of the letter, they requested a meeting with Sessions to discuss the letter and reasons why he should rescind the guidance.
Most of the attorneys general in the letter are from states with Democratic governors, such as California and Connecticut, but they also included attorneys general from states with Republican chief executives like Iowa and Maine.