Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday over a new memo he issued Thursday night directing federal prosecutors to crack down on drug offenders.
Sessions on Friday said the Justice Department will not focus low-level drug offenders.
The Attorney General's request for prosecutors to pursue the maximum penalty drew criticism from lawmakers who accused Sessions' of trying to resurrect a failed war on drugs.
"Yesterday’s action doubles down on a policy that we know was ineffective and discriminatory. In the name of helping communities, this policy destroyed many of them, including the families that live there," Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond said in a statement Friday.
The Congressional Black Caucus called Sessions memo the "new Jim Crow."
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders "have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long," and said Sessions' policy would "accentuate that injustice."
Paul added that America's drug epidemic should be treated "as a health crisis and less as a ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ problem.”
This is wrong. DOJ should focus on prosecuting violent criminals, not nonviolent drug offenders. We must reform our criminal justice system. https://t.co/JuD4BDndlc— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) May 12, 2017
Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey called for criminal justice reform.
Trump/Sessions: Let's double down on failed strategy, add to highest incarceration rate in the world— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) May 12, 2017
America: Let's end the war on drugs
Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke said most Americans don't want another war on drugs.
If we want to keep drugs away from kids, profits away from criminals, & focus on opioid epidemic & start saving lives, end the war on drugs.— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) May 12, 2017
Other critics said the new policy would line the pockets of private, for-profit prison companies.
“This is a disastrous move that will increase the prison population, exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and do nothing to reduce drug use or increase public safety,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
“Sessions is taking the country back to the 1980s by escalating the failed policies of the drug war.”
Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley said Sessions should be fair with drug offenders.
Conservative lobbying group Freedom Works said Sessions memo was "concerning," because it would increase the tax burden by increasing the prison population.
"Being tough on non-violent crime by handing out years and years of taxpayer-funded jail time is at the very least overkill and counterproductive," FreedomWorks director of public policy and legislative affairs, Jason Pye said in a statement.