OPINION | Trump must fire Sessions for his bad criminal justice policies
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As the White House makes necessary changes to address the administration’s continuous chaos and inability to see any major legislative victory, I can only hope that one of the changes is the removal of Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsIntel leaders: Collusion still open part of investigation Republicans jockey for position on immigration Biden to Alabama: No more extremist senators MORE. While President Trump has toyed with the idea, senators have made it very clear that such a thing would not be tolerated by blocking the president’s ability to make recess appointments. I maintain hope that Trump will revisit this idea.

The biggest threat to minorities, particularly African Americans, and more specifically African American men such as myself, is Sessions. He purports himself as a conservative, yet his restrictive and big government positions on criminal justice are antithetical to conservatism. There is nothing conservative about using government structures to limit individual liberty. The focus should be on providing a path forward for those who committed nonviolent offenses by maximizing, rather than limiting, their ability to be contributing members of society.

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One of Sessions’s first directives as attorney general was to order federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences against criminal suspects, while also ramping up his war on drugs, which history has shown as catastrophic to poor and minority communities. His order to reverse efforts to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug violations — efforts which received bipartisan support, including from the conservative Koch political network — is a burden on taxpayers.

 

According to the SentencingProject.org, half of the people in federal prison are serving time for nonviolent drug offense. A vast majority of these individuals can be rehabilitated and educated so that they’re able to become productive members of their communities and the overall society. The cost of long term imprisonment of prisoners who commit low-level offenses is a burden on the taxpayer.

In a survey of 40 states by the Vera Institute of Justice, the average annual per-inmate cost was $31,286. In total, the annual price to taxpayers is roughly around $39 billion dollars. Minorities, with a majority being African American constitute 60 percent of our prison populations, according to the National Research Council, and many of them are poorly educated and suffer from mental illness or drug and alcohol addiction.

Sessions’s approach to criminal justice reform is illogical, irresponsible and anti-conservative. The result will be a negative and disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities. Conservatives and liberals coming together in rare bipartisan form to reduce mandatory minimums and create effective programs that incentivize people to step away from a life of crime and help offenders adjust to life after prison. Despite all this, the attorney general’s policies remain extremely misguided.

“Locking up people who don’t pose a threat to public safety is a waste of taxpayer money, a waste of resources and doesn’t deter crime,” said Steve Hawkins, president of the bipartisan Coalition for Public Safety. His organization, alongside Koch Industries and others have argued for sentencing changes as a way to save the government money and to make more productive contributors out of nonviolent offenders as noted by Carl Hulse of the New York Times.

With the opioid crisis hitting rural America, I can only wonder if Sessions is aware what effect his policies on drugs and harsh prison sentences will have. I can only wonder if those of a different hue will face the same penalties as a person of color. The reality is that his policies are a threat to millions of poor and minority communities. We have to be smart on crime and sentencing. We cannot return to the failed policies of the 1990s, which decimated communities and destroyed families. We need to be wise and proactive, but Sessions has shown himself to be the exact opposite of what is needed.

It is time for President Trump to remove him as attorney general. After all, Trump did state that he wants to improve minority communities, and he even sent Jared Kushner to Capitol Hill to discuss criminal justice reform. If the president is truly committed to this issue, he would remove Sessions before his disastrous policies take effect. I won’t hold my breath on Sessions doing the logical thing or on Trump firing him, but I can say that his policies will have dire consequences for poor and minority communities, and for American taxpayers.

Shermichael Singleton is a CNN political commentator and a Republican political strategist who has worked on the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonPrice resignation sets off frenzy of speculation over replacement We are all to blame for the Las Vegas shooting India's IBM conquest is an ominous sign for American industry MORE. Follow him on Twitter @Shermichael_.


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