By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday warned the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to not approve a draft criminal sentencing reform bill that he claims would reduce sentences for “a highly dangerous cohort of criminals.”
In a letter seen by Reuters, Sessions told Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman and fellow Republican Charles Grassley that he feared passage of the legislation would be “a grave error.”
Grassley’s committee is slated to make edits to the draft bill at a hearing on Thursday, before it can be sent to the full Senate for a possible vote.
The bill, unveiled by a bipartisan group of lawmakers last fall, aims to lessen prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders and it would also do away with the three-strike mandatory life provision.
It would also give judges more discretion in how they sentence non-violent offenders.
At the same time, it would toughen sentencing in some cases by adding mandatory minimums for crimes such as interstate domestic violence and trafficking in fentanyl-laced heroin.
Sessions’ opposition to the draft bill comes as no surprise.
During his time in the Senate, he helped to kill a similar bill that was backed by many of his Republican and Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary Committee.
Since becoming attorney general a little more than a year ago, Sessions has made combating violent crime, illegal immigration and drug offenses his priority.
Last year, he issued a memorandum to all U.S. Attorneys’ offices instructing them to charge people with the highest provable offense – a move that is designed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences under laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s that critics say can wrongfully criminalize drug addicts and disproportionately affect minority communities.
He also has blamed marijuana for directly helping fuel the ongoing opioid epidemic, and earlier this year he revoked Obama-era guidance that urged federal prosecutors not to prioritize marijuana cases in states where it is legal.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)