My Civic Workout: Courts in Session’s DOJ

Courts in Session’s DOJ

Retributive Injustice

Before Trump’s election, a bipartisan consensus had been emerging that racialized mass incarceration is ineffective and unjust. Add this to a decline in the federal prison population over the course of the 2000s, and criminal justice policy seemed to be taking a turn in the right direction. But with Jeff Sessions at the helm of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Nixon-era “law and order” mentality is back, and measures are being taken to send more people to prison—and for longer.

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5-Minute Workout
Get started today by watching this short ABC News video about Jeff Session’s most recent intervention in the criminal justice system: a memo ordering prosecutors to seek the longest possible sentence for an accused offender, rather than using their discretion to make sure that the punishment fits the crime.

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10-Minute Workout

There are many actions that Congress could take to counter the DOJ’s adoption of a longer, harsher sentencing policy—for example, passing new legislation reducing or removing mandatory minimums; changing the classification of drug-related offenses; or formally giving more leeway to prosecutors to seek more lenient sentences. Call your representative and two senators to speak out against Sessions’ sentencing memo and ask how Congress will address the DOJ’s actions:

Hello, my name is (NAME) and I’m calling from (CITY, ZIP). I am calling about a sentencing memo recently issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which removes prosecutors’ discretion and orders them to seek the longest possible sentence for a crime. I am concerned about racialized mass incarceration in America, and believe that this policy takes us in the wrong direction. Has the (SENATOR or REPRESENTATIVE) stated their position on this memo? Congress has the ability to pass legislation countering the DOJ’s sentencing policy: is the (SENATOR or REPRESENTATIVE) willing to take action? In what ways?

If a staffer you speak to does not have answers to the questions you’re asking, offer to provide your email address so that they can follow up with a more detailed response.

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30-Minute Workout

Lawmakers often take the pulse of the public mood by paying attention to what appears on the letter to the editor page of local newspapers, especially when they themselves are mentioned by name. With this in mind, write a short letter to the editor explaining your stance on Jeff Sessions’ ramping up of punitive policy and describing your conversation with one of your lawmakers’ offices. For example, you can mention that…

  • “When I called X’s office, I was pleased to learn that X opposes the Attorney General’s harsh sentencing policies…”
  • “When I called X’s office, the staffer I spoke to was unfortunately noncommittal about whether X was in agreement with or opposed to the Attorney General’s harsh sentencing policies…”
  • “Unfortunately, X is not planning to support any bills that would counter the Attorney General’s harsh sentencing policies. I learned this when I called X’s office to voice my opposition to Sessions’ recent actions…”

Send us your published letters so we can feature them in an upcoming workout!

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Second Wind

“What does it mean to be ‘pro-law enforcement’ in 2017?” In the Guardian, Douglas Williams considers the bigger picture of Sessions’ law and order attitude.

When Sessions announced that his Justice Department would be reviewing all consent decrees – the agreements that the federal government negotiates with police departments that have a history of brutality in an effort to reform them – he essentially took the work of policing the police off the table.

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