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With tough sentencing policy, Atty. Gen. Sessions pledges redoubled war on drugs

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions is promising to renew the federal government’s war on drugs, saying tough new sentencing policies are necessary to combat what he described as a surge of violent crime in cities. 

The Justice Department on Friday released a memo from Sessions ordering federal prosecutors to pursue the highest charges possible, including those that carry mandatory minimum sentences, for drug offenders.

“If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way," Sessions said Friday at the Justice Department. "We will not be willfully blind to your conduct.”

Sessions is ending Obama administration policies that told federal prosecutors to avoid charging low-level offenders with crimes that carry heavy mandatory sentences.

The new Justice Department policy was met with fierce criticism from sentencing advocates, some former federal prosecutors and even some Republicans in Congress who have been pursuing sentencing-reform measures.

“To be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime,” tweeted Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). “That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue.”

Violent crime has increased over the last two years in many of the nation's cities, though it is still far below rates in the 1990s. Overall, according to the FBI, the nation's crime rate fell 50% between 1993 and 2015.

Sessions said the crackdown was “a key part of President Trump’s promise to keep America safe,” linking drug trafficking to increased homicide rates in some cities.

“Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business,” he said. “If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun.”

He said heroin is cheaper, more pure and more easily available than ever. Advocates of justice reform say that the nation's opioid crisis is evidence that tough policies of the past have failed.

But Sessions said that tougher enforcement could “reverse that trend.”

“So we are returning to the enforcement of the law as passed by Congress – plain and simple,” he said.

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