In yesterday's Detroit Free Press opinion section, former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade took up the U.S. Attorney General's new policy on drug prosecutions. This policy is a bit of a "back to the future" policy, in that the tough on criminals prosecutor wants to through the book at alleged drug offenders, going for the maximum penalties allowed by law. As McQuade notes, the policy failed back in the 1980s and 1990s to do anything about drugs, but it did fill up our prisons. If the policy is reinstituted it will once again fill up our prisons, often with elderly prisoners, costing the government millions of dollars. For what?
We tried the Sessions strategy in the 1980s and 1990s and it didn't work. Drugs are still prevalent. The only difference is the number of people in prison. The federal prison population rose from about 200,000 inmates in 1970 to about 1.5 million in 2010. America is now home to five percent of the world’s population, and 25 percent of its prisoners. What have we accomplished?
By distrusting his own prosecutors, Sessions has set us on a course that is doomed to fail again. The drug supply will not abate, but the bills will keep coming due for generations.We have a mass incarceration problem in America. It especially affects communities of color, in part because the laws on the books often impact them more severely, and because the justice system still privileges those who are white, especially affluent ones.
So, here's my question: Will we make America great by filling our prisons with drug offenders,often throwing away redeemable lives and spending billions on policies that have failed in the past and will continue to fail? That is, unless we really believe in the employment possibilities that come from building more and more prisons so we can warehouse more and more of our citizens. As for me, I think there is a better way, one that deals with the demand side of the equation, empties the prisons, and allows lives and communities to be restored and redeemed. Thus, we need to say no to Jeff Sessions and say yes to the common sense vision laid out by Barbara McQuade, who during her term of office in Detroit was highly regarded (unlike the new AG in Washington).