Jeff Sessions: Focusing On Treatment Rather Than Incarceration's A Mistake

By Keri Blakinger 04/02/18

“The extraordinary surge in addiction and drug death is a product of a popular misunderstanding of the dangers of drugs.” 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Choosing drug treatment over incarceration can be downright dangerous, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

In a wide-ranging interview with TIME, the nation’s top prosecutor doubled down on his controversial opinions regarding the value of rehabilitation and the need for harsh sentencing policies. 

“The extraordinary surge in addiction and drug death is a product of a popular misunderstanding of the dangers of drugs,” Sessions told the magazine. “Because all too often, all we get in the media is how anybody who’s against drugs is goofy, and we just ought to chill out.”

The interview reinforced Sessions’ regressive drug policy stance, harkening back to a tough-on-crime era that even the conservative billionaires, the Koch brothers, view as a thing of the past. 

“We put a lot of people in prison,” said Koch’s Mark Holden, “but there’s no evidence that made us any safer.”

But Sessions seems to see it differently, decrying the decreasing prison population as a problem.

“We’ve got some space to put some people,” he said in Nashville. Consistently, he’s worked to backpedal on progressive drug policies from the previous administration, relying instead on the tough-on-crime attitude he honed while coming up as a federal prosecutor in Alabama three decades ago.

Last year, Sessions reversed a 2013 Obama-era directive ordering federal prosecutors to charge in a way that helped judges avoid stiff mandatory minimum sentences. In its place, Sessions issued his own memo, ordering the longest sentences possible and requiring prosecutors to get approval for any exceptions.

“This whole mentality that there’s another solution other than incarceration, all I will say to you is, people today don’t know that every one of these things has been tried over the last 40 years,” he told TIME last week.

It’s a message he seems intent on spreading out to the masses, both in his policy and in personal interactions. 

One day recently, Sessions visited with a group of parents who’d lost children to drugs. He listened to their stories and heard their pleas for funding. Then he weighed in.

“How many of your children had treatment before they died?” he asked.

Almost everyone raised their hands.

“Well, we need treatment,” he said, “but it is true that a lot of people it doesn’t work for.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.