Jeff Sessions wants all those prisons full

In a speech Friday morning in Washington, DC, to the Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City, Sessions cited the heroin epidemic and rising rates of violent crime and murders in large cities as reasons for cracking down further on drug cases.

In what amounts to a direct reversal of Obama administration policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is getting tough on crime, instructing federal prosecutors to "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense" against many suspects.

But Holder said Friday that since he gave prosecutors more discretion four years ago, the number of cases carrying mandatory minimum sentences have dropped and the prosecution of high-level drug offenders had increased ─ without impacting the rates at which people cooperated with authorities or pleaded guilty. Session ordered federal prosecutors to seek the maximum punishment for drug offenses.

Brett Tolman, former United States attorney for Utah and a representative of the Law Enforcement Leaders group: "The Justice Department's expected shift to prosecuting and incarcerating more offenders, including low-level and drug offenders, is an ineffective way to protect public safety".

However, data from the Prison Policy Initiative shows that over half of those in federal prison are there for drug offences. "The social and human costs will be much higher". "It is dumb on crime", Eric Holder, who served as attorney general in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2015, said in a statement on Friday.

"It failed for 40 years, and from the halls of state legislatures to the ballot box, the American people have said with a clear voice that they want commonsense reforms to sentencing policy", Ofer said in a statement.

Holder directed prosecutors - when considering nonviolent defendants with insignificant criminal histories and no connections to criminal organizations - to omit details about drug quantities from charging documents so as not to lead to automatically harsh penalties. "You collect it with the barrel of a gun", Sessions said. The most "serious" crimes are determined by which offenses carry the longest sentences, according to guidelines.

But mandatory minimum sentencing is nothing new - the policies outlined by Sessions hearken back to the "tough-on-crime" era of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions' two-page memo to USA attorney's offices across the country, calling for stricter criminal charges and sentencing, could harm those already behind bars.

Sessions told Justice Department attorneys around the country in a two-page memo that when prosecuting cases, they should apply the most serious charges possible that can be proven in court. Sessions has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for being "soft on crime" and accused the former president's policies of leading to violent crimes.

Twenty-three USA states since 2007 have changed their sentencing laws to reserve prison space for the most serious or repeat offenders, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Combined, those changes led to a steep decline in a federal prison population that now stands at just under 190,000, down from almost 220,000 in 2013. Almost half of those inmates are in custody for drug crimes, records show.