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It is feared prison populations will begin to rise again, after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo telling federal prosecutors to try and get the most serious charges for the majority of suspects.
Sessions, a former federal prosecutor who made his name during the crack cocaine epidemic, promised to make tackling violence and drugs the Justice Department's top priority.
The letter reads: "This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency."
It's a direct reversal of the Obama administration - which introduced policies aimed at lowering the prison intake.
Hundreds of federal drug convicts were also eligible for early release after a clemency initiative was introduced by the US Sentencing Commission.
The initiatives aimed to spearhead a rethink in the way that small-time drug criminals were dealt with.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Credit: PA
Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, has told AP: "It looks like we're going to fill the prisons back up after finally getting the federal prison population down. But the social and human costs will be much higher."
This was echoed by Barry Pollack, head of the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers, who also told AP: "[The policy] marks a return to the failed policies of past administrations that caused mass incarceration, devastated families and communities, wasted untold millions of dollars and failed to make us any safer."
Sessions hopes his directive will reduce the spiked levels of crime being seen across major cities - which he blames on the opioid crisis. He told a crowd in West Virginia: "Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can't, and don't, file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun."
It's believed the move will cause judges to sentence suspects with mandatory minimums and base it off the quantity of the drug found.
Former Attorney General, Eric Holder, said in 2013 that he wanted to see shorter sentences for non-violent drug offenders to limit the strain on resources, and leave more time available for pursuing violent criminals.
Attorney General Sessions is also supportive of reinforcing private prisons - which Obama tried to phaseout.
Asking prosecutors for the harshest possible charges is a part of a broader plan of the Trump administration against drugs.
In his January inauguration speech, he told the crowd: "The crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."
Source: Associated Press
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