Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to bring in a drug war crusader into his inner circle at the Justice Department indicates a return to the much-disputed policies of the "war on drugs," according to reports and pundits.
Steven H. Cook, a former federal prosecutor and vocal advocate of drug war policies, is now one of Sessions' trusted advisers at the DOJ, according to The Washington Post. This indicates a possible return to policies that were popularized during the 1980s and 1990s, such as life sentences for minor drug crimes. Those policies were often abandoned in recent years as draconian and too expensive to implement.
"Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences," Sari Horowitz wrote in The Washington Times. "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."
Cook is reportedly not afraid of being labeled a hard-liner on anti-drug laws.
"If hard line means that my focus is on protecting communities from violent felons and drug traffickers, then I’m guilty," Cook recently told The Washington Post. "I don’t think that’s hard line. I think that’s exactly what the American people expect of their Department of Justice."
And while politicians from both parties have argued that the criminal justice system in the U.S. is "broken" because of harsh sentences to nonviolent offenders, Cook testified in from of the Senate Judiciary Committee to say it's working just as intended.
"There is a common refrain among some advocacy groups: 'the federal criminal justice system is broken.' That refrain is tired, and it is false," Cook said on Oct. 19, 2015, when he testified against the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. "The fundamental responsibility of government is to protect its citizens from foreign and domestic threats. On the domestic side, that responsibility is shouldered primarily by the criminal justice system. The government’s responsibility is to act within the boundaries of the law to protect good and honest citizens from the murderers, rapists, robbers, drug traffickers, fraudsters and other criminals who would, if given the opportunity, prey on them at will."
Reason's Nick Gillespie said Sessions is on the verge of repeating what he said were the mistakes law enforcement in the U.S. made for 30 years as the war on drugs raged.
"At least since the middle 1990s, when crime rates started dropping and staying low and medical marijuana was legalized, it seemed as America was growing up about the moral and pragmatic sagacity of making at least soft drugs such as pot available," Gillespie wrote. "The Sessions Justice Department is insisting on a second childhood, alas."