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Chaos expected as the President visits Nevada; New York teachers speak out about standardized test scores; and Illinois lawmakers take on gender-based price discrepancies. Those stories and more in today’s rundown.

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NC Prosecutors Directed to Pursue Mandatory Sentences by AG Sessions

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. (Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Marshal/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. (Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Marshal/Flickr)
May 17, 2017

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

On Friday, Sessions announced he was directing federal prosecutors to pursue the most severe penalties possible, including mandatory minimum sentences. Calling his new policy a return to the war on drugs of the 1980s and '90s. Anita Earls, executive director of 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," she 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 reversed 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 large number of minority defendants being placed in the prison system.

Under the previous policy, Holder instructed prosecutors 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, four in five inmates serving time for drug offenses are African-American or Hispanic. A report from the U.S. Department of Justice found that more than a third of drug offenders in federal prison had either no or minimal criminal history prior to their sentence.

A link to the DOJ report is online at bjs.gov.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC