Local lawmakers react to Attorney General Sessions’ new sentencing guidelines

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions has new guidelines for prosecutors. He wants them to see the maximum penalty for drug offenders.

It’s a major reversal of Obama-era policies that worked to bring down the number of people behind bars. Enforcing mandatory minimums means prosecutors will seek the harshest penalty for drug offenders.

Congressman Scott Taylor and Congressman Bobby Scott are calling on Attorney General Sessions to rethink his current stance.

“It’s more expensive for us of course in prisons,” said Representative Scott Taylor (R – 2nd District). “You hurt people’s ability to be productive members in society. That’s not to say you shouldn’t enforce the law, because you should, and people shouldn’t pay for their crimes — that should happen. But I think there should be more discussion.”

“They do nothing to reduce crime, they discriminate against minorities, they waste the taxpayer’s money and require judges to impose sentences that are so bizarre they violate common sense,” said Representative Bobby Scott (D – 3rd District).

Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron says the immediate effects of the stronger sentencing won’t be felt significantly in Hampton Roads, unless the state follows the federal government’s lead. However, he cautions against a change that’s made politically, if it is not backed by numbers and evidence.

“The real important question is: How does it impact our communities? Is it making our community safer? Is it reducing drug trade in our community?” asked Sheriff Baron.

Attorney General Sessions says the policy change is not aimed at low-level drug users, but drug dealers and drug traffickers. He said, “Our responsibility is to fulfill our role in a way that accords with the law, advancing public safety, and promotes respect for and consistency in our legal system in the work that we all do. Charging and sentencing recommendations are our bed rock responsibilities of any prosecutor and I trust our prosecutors in the field to make good judgments.”

For Taylor’s full statement, click here. For Scott’s full statement, click here.