The problem of mass incarceration has shifted politically in recent years with changing attitudes about drugs and the costs (human and financial) of private prisons. Yet, Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems poised to reverse all that, most recently with his appointment of Steve Cook as the Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States.
Sessions tasked Cook with leading the effort mandated by the president to address the “carnage” in America associated with crime. Even though crime rates are historic lows, Sessions sees the recent increase back to 2012 levels as the start of a trend of increasing crime. Cook, the man he tasked with fixing this “problem,” has a solution: more mass incarceration.
Last year, in an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel, Cook credited the War on Drugs and harsh, lengthy mandatory minimums for bringing down the crime rate. Of course, scholarly research and actual programs aimed at reducing crime without putting people in prison have shown that mass incarceration doesn’t bring down crime any more effectively than other methods.
“We were all kind of like shocked. Like ‘Oh no, not him,’” Families Against Mandatory Minimums spokesperson Debi Campbell told The Trace, adding his appointment is “actually kind of scary.”
The site notes that Campbell and Cook testified together at a Senate hearing in 2015, describing her experience spending 16 years in prison for a drug conviction that relied on the testimony of sole witness who received a plea agreement for testifying against her. Cook was not moved, arguing that even nonviolent drug offenders deserve to languish behind bars.
Cook believes these sentences are necessary as leverage to convince people to testify against high-ranking drug organizations, ignoring the possibility that they can be abused. “The questions we should ask about releasing these violent and career offenders early are not if, but when, how many, and how badly citizens will be victimized as a result,” he said in his testimony.
The process has already began, as Sessions sent a memo to U.S. Attorneys taking away their discretion over when to threaten harsh sentences to drug or gun offenders. He believes that target drug dealers will bring down violent crime. It’s a familiar strategy that hasn’t exactly failed, but hasn’t helped bring down the crime rate either.
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