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Attorney General Jeff Sessions prepares to speak before a meeting of the Attorney General's Organized Crime Council and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Executive Committee to discuss implementation of the President's Executive Order 13773, at the Department of Justice, Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Jeff Sessions has transformed the Justice Department without changing the law


Jeff Sessions has transformed the Justice Department without changing the law

WATCH | Attorney General Jeff Sessions hit his 100th day in office this weekend. While Russia and healthcare have been getting all of the headlines, Sessions has been working behind the scenes to transform the Justice Department. 

Sweeping changes

"The scope and the amount of policy change and the literally 180 turn it has taken is unprecedented and very sweeping," Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director at the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington D.C. office, said of Sessions first 100 days. 

Sessions has been able to do more in that time for his department than anyone else on President Trump's cabinet, she said. All without having to change a single law in Congress. 

Reviving the war on drugs 

Earlier this month, in the aftermath of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Sessions quietly sent a memo to federal prosecutors across the country directing them to seek the harshest possible punishment for drug offenders. 

Sessions later said his department would not focus on non-violent offenders, but civil liberties groups and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle condemned the move. 

"This is only about locking up as many people as possible. And this is exactly what we thought Sessions would do and he’s proving us right," said DeRay McKesson, a spokesman for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Sen. Harris, the former Attorney General of California also spoke out.

For-profit prisons 

Soon after he took office, Sessions rescinded an Obama administration order, signed by then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, meant to phase out private prisons. 

In recent weeks Sessions' Justice Department has started to expand their use. An April 21 notice from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons calls for thousands more beds in Criminal Alien Requirement facilities, private prisons for non-U.S. citizens convicted of low-level offenses. 

ICE crackdown

Sessions has also directed law enforcement to crackdown on illegal immigrants, particularly gang members. 

ICE officials said this weekend that they had arrested over 1,300 gang members in a nationwide sweep.

The Department of Homeland Security said the six-week operations was the largest gang round-up ever conducted by DHS' office of investigations to date.

Dissolving the Civil Rights division 

Sessions ordered Justice Department officials to review all reform agreements with troubled police forces nationwide. Those reforms were made in response to national outrage over police department's use of force against some unarmed black men.

Since 2009, the Justice Department opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies, the Washington Post reported. 

In a two-page memo, Sessions said the agreements reached between the department's civil rights division and police departments would be reviewed to ensure they do not work against the Trump administration's police-first values. 

Sessions has also reportedly been encouraging Civil Rights Division employees to leave the department, according to the Daily Beast

Pro-police agenda 

Sessions has said his main objective is to bolster law enforcement and crack down on violent crime. 

"Our responsibility is to fulfill our role in a way that accords with law, advances public safety, and promotes respect for and consistency in our legal system," he told reporters when he announced his directive on drug prosecutions. 

Many in law enforcement and some prosecutors have praised the moves, saying they will make Americans safer. 

But others argue that Sessions' directives will undo years of progress for the American justice system. 

A group of 30 state and local prosecutors recently signed an open letter to Sessions, criticizing his memo on drug prosecutions, saying it marks an "unnecessary and unfortunate return to past 'tough on crime' practices that we know simply don't enhance or promote the safety of our communities. 

Lawmakers fight back

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are also pushing back. Two bipartisan bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate which would give federal judges the ability to impose lighter sentences when appropriate.

"Mandatory minimum sentences disproportionally affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe and turning mistakes into tragedies," Sen. Rand Paul, (R-Kentucky), one of the lawmakers behind the bill said in a statement. 

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