Attorney General Jeff Sessions made criminal justice hard-liner Steven H. Cook one of his top lieutenants at the Justice Department, signaling a return to the racially biased “war on drugs” policy that led to mass incarceration, the Washington Post reports.
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According to The Post, Sessions and Cook are formulating a policy to step up drug and gun prosecutions, as well as enforcing mandatory minimum sentences.
After working as a police officer, Cook became a federal prosecutor and served as president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. He rejects the growing chorus of voices calling for criminal justice reform. At a Washington Post criminal justice forum last year Cook said the justice system is “working exactly as designed.”
With the onslaught of the crack epidemic in the 1980s, Congress passed laws intended to get tough on crime. Former President Bill Clinton enacted a crime bill that included a “three-strike” rule that mandated life sentences.
That crime-fighting tactic led to mass incarceration, costing taxpayers $80 billion a year. The criminal justice system warehoused African-Americans in prison for drug offenses 10 times more than Whites, even though Blacks and Whites used drugs at roughly the same rate. Blacks also received disproportionately longer prison sentences for minor drug offenses
Elected officials on the left and right eventually saw a need for reform. Former President Barack Obama led the way, reducing the sentences of 1,715 low-level, non-violent drug offenders to address the disparities, including crack versus powder cocaine sentencing, which devastated the Black Community.
Bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation was moving through Congress in 2015, but tough-on-crime lawmakers stepped on the brakes. The Post pointed to Sessions, then an Alabama senator, as one of the fiercest reform opponents.
The National crime rate has dropped to about half of its 1991 high, according to the Brennan Center For Justice. Yet Sessions and others warned that a spike in places like Chicago signals a dangerous upswing. Cook was among those who testified, at congressional hearings, that reforming the criminal justice system would be a mistake.
“If hard-line means that my focus is on protecting communities from violent felons and drug traffickers, then I’m guilty,” Cook told The Post. “I don’t think that’s hard-line. I think that’s exactly what the American people expect of their Department of Justice.”
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SOURCE: Washington Post