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PNS Daily News - May 29, 2017 


We’re covering a variety of issues in today’s news including: Germany’s leader notes a disconnect with the United States; remembering the fallen and those left behind on a Memorial Day; and a look at passenger’s rights as summer air travel season kicks into gear.

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Directive from Washington Could Create Crowding in TN Jails

Critics say U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' renewed "war on drugs" will mean overcrowding of jails and a large number of minority defendants being placed in the prison system. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Critics say U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' renewed "war on drugs" will mean overcrowding of jails and a large number of minority defendants being placed in the prison system. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
May 18, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A directive from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions could place additional burdens on the state's already crowded prison system and put a disproportionate number of minority defendants in jail.

Sessions announced late last week that he was directing federal prosecutors to pursue the most severe penalties under the law, including mandatory minimum sentences. Calling his new policy a return to the war on drugs of the 1980s and 1990s, Anita Earls with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice said the shift takes the nation backwards when it comes to handling offenders.

"I think it's not justified from a policy perspective,” Earls said. "It doesn't make the public safer, it's not a way to address the problem of drugs, and it's a change that this administration is making for ideological reasons without any basis in fact."

Sessions' announcement reverses a policy change put in place by then Attorney General Eric Holder in 2013 that directed prosecutors to avoid charging nonviolent defendants with offenses that would trigger long mandatory minimum sentences. Earls and others are concerned that the shift will mean overcrowding of jails and a disproportionate number of minority defendants held in the prison system.

Under the previous policy, prosecutors were instructed to pursue lesser charges for defendants not belonging to large-scale drug trafficking organizations, gangs or cartels. Earls said she is concerned about the additional demand on public resources.

"You're paying for all these people to be incarcerated for life, through your federal tax dollars,” she said. “So it impacts you in that sense, and those tax dollars could be contributing to the community much more effectively if they were spent in very different ways."

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 4-in-5 inmates serving time for drug offenses are African American or Hispanic. A report from the U.S. Department of Justice found that more than one-third of drug offenders in federal prison had either no criminal record or minimal contact with the legal system prior to their sentence.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN