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Republican States Buck Trump Administration's Tough Drug Policy

By Feedcarpet / Published on Friday, 19 May 2017 12:14 PM / No Comments / 16 views

The Trump administration’s get-tough drug enforcement policy aims to set the tone for the rest of country by projecting a distaste for leniency and an embrace of mandatory minimum prison sentences.

But that outlook is becoming more passé by the day — even by the standards of the president’s own party.

A bipartisan movement to scale back drug laws, gaining momentum for a decade, has spread to some of the country’s most conservative regions. Of the more than 20 states that have softened their treatment of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders since 2007, half have Republican governors and Republican-led legislatures. Among those deep-red states, many — including Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Iowa and Mississippi — have shrunk prison populations while cutting crime.

That formula — not the federal approach — is the key to solving a mass incarceration crisis that has overwhelmed state budgets and ripped apart families, conservative reform boosters say.

“It’s frustrating when there’s no respect for what is working in the states,” said Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network, a lobbying group that pulls together advocates from the left and right.

Harris was responding to a memo written by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week that rescinded an Obama administration directive steering Justice Department priorities away from low-level nonviolent drug offenders. Sessions ordered prosecutors to seek the maximum punishment for drug offenses, a move that could cause federal prison populations to climb after three years of declines.

Related: Attorney General Sessions Charts Course Back to Long Drug Sentences

“What’s frustrating about this memo is there’s no accompanying plan for that ─ just lock them up and throw away the key,” Harris said. “By the way, 95 percent of these people are getting out some day. Does anyone care?”

A more comprehensive reform measure has stalled in Congress. The opponents included Sessions, who before becoming attorney general was a conservative senator from Alabama.

To reformers, that makes no sense.

Rethinking the nation’s drug policy aligns with conservative orthodoxy, advocates on the right say: it scales back government bureaucracy, lowers crime and recidivism rates, strengthens families and encourages personal responsibility.

Image: Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has told prosecutors to seek tougher sentences for drug offenders.