No More Drug War: Ella Baker Center Statement on Sessions' Criminal Justice Policies

This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made clear his intention to reinvigorate the War on Drugs  when he announced  that he would be directing federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”

The Drug War is a war on Black and Brown communities, and has been a total failure at keeping communities safe and at reducing the availability of drugs. For too long, the government’s response to public health issues like substance use has been punishment-oriented instead of solutions-oriented. Public health issues need public health solutions, and the way to address substance use is through increased funding for healthcare, not increased criminalization and harsher sentencing.

For decades the Drug War has targeted Black and Brown people. People of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug violations than whites, despite similar rates of drug use and sales.

Sessions’ directive demonstrates he will advance dumb-on-crime policies that will not make our communities any safer. The real path towards public safety begins by reckoning with the reality of racial injustice in our country and building opportunity by investing in resources like health care, jobs, education, and housing in low-income communities and communities of color.

Here in California, the Ella Baker Center is co-sponsoring the RISE Act, a bill to repeal the three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions, with the exception of convictions involving a minor. If passed, this bill would reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system, restore balance in the judicial process, and free up funds to be invested in communities.

Sessions’ actions show that he and this administration are woefully out of touch with the will of the people, who have expressed a desire to move away from harsh sentencing policies and towards policies that reinvest resources in our communities.