May 12, 2017

Koch network opposes Sessions restart of War on Drugs

Susan Walsh / AP

The well-funded political network helmed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch is publicly opposing Attorney General Jeff Sessions' push for tougher punishments for drug offenders.

"We favor a different approach which requires changing some of the existing federal laws," said Mark Holden, a top Koch network official who worked closely with the Obama administration on criminal justice reform. "There are less costly and more effective ways to help low level offenders who aren't a threat to public safety other than incarceration."

Context: Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that had directed prosecutors to not always pursue the most serious charges so nonviolent drug offenders wouldn't face lengthy mandatory minimums.

The practical effect: Sessions is restarting the war on drugs. This is a profound shift from the Obama-era momentum — including an emerging bipartisan consensus at the state level — towards reducing sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. The Attorney General believes the drug trade is responsible for much of America's violent crime and disorder, and he wants to stamp it out aggressively at all levels.

The Koch network argument, per Holden:

  • There are already federal reform bills from last year that have broad bipartisan support that will address this issue. These reforms are consistent with those enacted by many states the past 10 years.
  • The states have proven that communities and law enforcement are safer when the punishment fits the crime through sentencing reforms. They've shown you can reduce crime rates and reduce incarceration rates at the same time, keep communities safer and families together, while also using taxpayer dollars more effectively.
  • This is also an issue that receives overwhelming public support from across the political spectrum. In one recent poll, 81 percent of voters who supported President Trump described criminal justice reform as an important priority.
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