Sessions Aide Faulted for Opposing Justice Reform

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions has tapped Steven Cook to address violent crime in cities, a move widely seen as a directive to reverse the slim criminal justice reforms that took place during the Obama administration, Rolling Stone reports. “Cook thinks that prison is a reliable answer for almost everything,” says Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “When it doesn’t work, the answer is more prison.” (Cook declined to be interviewed). While Cook headed the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, the group released an ad about a former inmate who had killed his former girlfriend and her daughters. “It was Willie Horton,” says Ring, alluding to the 1988 attack ad against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in which Dukakis was blamed for the temporary release of Horton after he raped a woman. It was “classic fear-mongering,” Ring says.

Ring says it’s not realistic to expect that no released prisoner will ever commit another crime. At the same time, life-without-parole sentences might not be the best or most efficient way to keep the public safe, given that older people rarely commit violent crimes and cost far more to care for behind bars. “There are dangerous people who may need to go to prison. But we want it to be proportional. Do the time that fits their crime,” he says. Like Sessions, Cook has been a vocal critic of even minimal criminal justice reforms. In 2016, Cook took to right-wing media to berate the Obama Justice Department for pushing for shorter sentences for non-violent drug crimes. “Everybody knows that’s just absurd. Drug trafficking is inherently violent,” Cook said on The O’Reilly Factor. Alongside Sessions, Cook fought a bipartisan criminal justice reform package in Congress backed by the Koch brothers.

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