Tough Guy Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced that federal prosecutors will charge low-level drug offenders and others with the most serious crimes possible, despite overwhelming evidence and a bipartisan agreement that this approach is racially discriminatory and counterproductive.
The Sessions approach will throw thousands of people – especially Americans from communities of color or with low-incomes – into prison needlessly, sabotaging their life chances and increase post-release criminality. It is shameful and stupid. Shameful because there is overwhelming empirical evidence that this approach unfairly targets and damages young people of color. And stupid because there is, equally, overwhelming empirical evidence that it will create a cycle of crime.
At the same time that Sessions is announcing a clampdown on nonviolent, low-level offenders, Session’s Department of Justice is expected to announce resolution of a longstanding major corporate crime case: allegations of a massive Wal-Mart bribery scheme in Mexico and perhaps other countries. If news reports of the settlement are accurate, the settlement will involve a slap-on-the-wrist fine; no individual prosecutions; and a non-prosecution agreement with the Wal-Mart company, in which the company avoids prosecution in exchange for a promise not to break the law in the future – a meaningless commitment since the company is required to follow the law with or without an agreement with the Department of Justice.
So, it appears Tough Guy Attorney General Sessions is only tough on the poor and vulnerable. (That conclusion comports with Sessions’ performance as Alabama attorney general, as we explained in a January report on Sessions’ tenure in that post.) When it comes to the rich, powerful and connected, it seems that Sessions is soft on crime.
This is a moral and policy disgrace. The moral element should be self-evident. From a policy point of view, corporate crime and wrongdoing inflicts far more harm on society than street crime, as horrific as the toll of street crime is. And the corporate criminal class is likely to be far more responsive to the deterrent effect of harsh penalties – as well as far more likely to break the law if violations are prosecuted lightly or not at all – than street criminals.