Law enforcement officials across the nation have begun taking a harder line against drugs in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Here's the message from the Lake County Sheriff's Department in Florida.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled that he wants to bring the U.S. justice system back to a 1980s and 1990s style of drug enforcement. His inclusion of federal prosecutor and drug hardliner Steven H. Cook in his inner circle shows he's ready to go all in on the war on drugs. Sessions and Cook are outspoken against drugs and their support for tough-on-crime laws.
Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences. The two men are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration.
“If hard-line means that my focus is on protecting communities from violent felons and drug traffickers, then I’m guilty,” Cook said in a recent interview with The Post. “I don’t think that’s hard-line. I think that’s exactly what the American people expect of their Department of Justice.”
Activists worry Sessions and Cook's enthusiasm for a new war on drugs will undo all progress done to reform incarceration. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world. Minority communities are still reeling from the mass incarceration of Black and Hispanic men from the first war on drugs. Activists say adding tougher laws ignores everything we've learned about addiction and drugs in favor of a broken system.
But sentencing reform advocates say the tough crime policies went too far. The nation began incarcerating people at a higher rate than any other country — jailing 25 percent of the world’s prisoners at a cost of $80 billion a year. The nation’s prison and jail population more than quadrupled from 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million in 2015, filled with mostly black men strapped with lengthy prison sentences — 10 or 20 years, sometimes life without parole for a first drug offense.