A zealous prosecutor who helped write the Justice Department’s new policy encouraging harsher punishments for criminals is now turning his attention to hate crimes, marijuana and the ways law enforcement seizes suspects’ cash and property, the Associated Press reports. Steve Cook’s hardline views on criminal justice were fortified as a cop on the streets of Knoxville, Tn., in the 1970s and 1980s. The unabashed drug warrior is armed with a broad mandate to review DOJ policies. Cook sums up his philosophy in simple terms that crystalized one night on patrol when he came upon a family whose station wagon had been hit head-on by a “pilled-up drug user.” Two daughters were dead in the backseat. In Cook’s eyes, everyone had to be punished, including the courier who shuttled the drugs into town and the dealer who sold them to the man behind the wheel.
“This theory that we have embraced since the beginning of civilization is, when you put criminals in prison, crime goes down,” he told the AP. “It really is that simple.” It is actually a widely challenged view, seen by many as far from simple. It is one that governs Cook as he helps oversee a Justice Department task force developing policies to fight violent crime. He is pushing ideas that even some Republicans have dismissed as outdated and fiscally irresponsible. Cook helped craft Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ directive urging the nation’s federal prosecutors to seek the steepest penalties for most suspects, a move that will send more people to prison for longer, and which was assailed by critics as a revival of failed drug war policies that ravaged minority communities. Cook finds the criticism baffling. The debate takes the focus off the real victims, he said: drug addicts, their families and those killed and injured as the opioid epidemic rages. “For me, it’s like the world is turned upside-down,” Cook told the AP. “We now somehow see these drug traffickers as the victims. That’s just bizarre to me.”