A USA TODAY Op-Ed
By Piper Kerman
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ directive to federal prosecutors last week to pursue the most severe penalties possible when charging a person with a crime was unsurprising coming from someone with his background and yet still stunning in its misdirection.
During his confirmation hearings, Sessions took great pains to deny allegations of racism. Yet this action, more than any other, raises questions about his sincerity.
Sessions says he wants to make America safer. Evidence shows that harsh punishment is the exact wrong way to go. In 2014, the National Research Council published an expansive report on The Growth of Incarceration in the United States that examined the dramatic rise of the prison population and its effects on our country. It concludes that “the evidence base demonstrates that lengthy prison sentences are ineffective as a crime control measure," and that we have long passed any point at which increasing incarceration made us safer or better.
The memo from Sessions puts the federal criminal system at odds with what many states and municipalities have recognized and worked to change; broad reliance on harsh punishment is profoundly counterproductive if what we want is public safety.
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