Law enforcement officials say Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his assistant Steven Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences, the Washington Post reports. They are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration. Cook, a former street cop who became a federal prosecutor based in Knoxville, Tn., saw nothing wrong with how the system worked — not the life sentences for drug charges, not the huge growth of the prison population. “The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed,” Cook told the Washington Post last year.
The Obama administration largely ignored Cook, who was president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. Now, Sessions has brought Cook into his inner circle at the Justice Department, appointing him to help undo the criminal justice policies of Obama and former attorney general Eric Holder. Crime is near historic lows in the U.S.,but Sessions says that the spike in homicides in several cities, including Chicago, is a harbinger of a “dangerous new trend” that requires a tough response. Advocates of criminal justice reform argue that Sessions and Cook are going in the wrong direction to a strategy that tore apart families and sent low-level drug offenders, disproportionately minority citizens, to prison for long sentences. “They are throwing decades of improved techniques and technologies out the window in favor of a failed approach,” said Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). Sessions helped prevent a federal sentencing reform bill from getting to the Senate floor last year. “Sessions was the main reason that bill didn’t pass,” said Inimai Chettiar of the Brennan Center for Justice. “He came in at the last minute and really torpedoed the bipartisan effort.”