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But the laws were still on the books and the federal prison population continued to grow. Holder was announcing that federal prosecutors were being instructed to use minimum sentences in fewer, and more serious, cases. She and the other women would spend hours discussing what they had heard. Today, Barry-Scott herself is free, part of a group of more than 1, inmates granted clemency by Barack Obama in the largest application of presidential mercy in half a century. But she is no longer so hopeful.

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What is so striking about the move by Sessions and the Trump administration is that it is at odds with much thinking across the globe about the war on drugs, including among leaders in Latin America. Ever since when Juan Manuel Santos, as the president of Colombia, declared that the war on drugs had failed, a growing international consensus has been forming on the need for a new conversation to discuss the violence, bloodshed and ruined lives that followed in the wake of the war on drugs — whether in Colombia, Mexico or America.

The change in direction in the US has come at a time when America has been also seeing an increasing number of states liberalizing laws on the consumption and sale of marijuana.

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Into this evolving international and national context has stepped Sessions, with a very different approach. In order to fight and defeat this enemy it is necessary to wage a new all-out offensive. That year Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving specific amounts of drugs.

The law created a remarkable to 1 disparity in the length of sentences for possession of of crack cocaine then associated with low-income, often African American drug users compared with those for possession of the same amount of powder cocaine, the choice of wealthier white drug users. For decades, reciting law and order slogans has been the path of least resistance for politicians — and the policymakers who sign such harsh legislation have not been held responsible for its consequences.

In , Congress acknowledged the troubling racial biases and revised the law, reducing the disparity in sentencing for crack offenses compared with those for powder cocaine from to 1 to merely 18 to 1.

Dr. Umar Johnson Talks America's War Against the Black Man

Then-senator Sessions signed on to support the Fair Sentencing Act and had backed reducing this disparity for years. The problem we now face is this outlier is the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country. What about the people whose lives they kill and the lives they destroy?

How Race Made the Opioid Crisis | Boston Review

Richard Rosenfeld, a leading criminologist who authored a Justice Department-funded study on the murder increase, says he knows of no research or data to support a link between federal sentencing changes and the uptick in murders. In fact, one of the most comprehensive surveys of research examining the effects of tough drug law enforcement found that the tactic sometimes backfired and led to more violence, rather than less. The percentage of inmates subject to mandatory minimum sentences had decreased by five points since Most strikingly, gaps between black offenders and white offenders had narrowed.

While black offenders were still the least likely to get relief from a mandatory minimum sentence, now only three points existed between the percentages of white and black offenders receiving relief.

How Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump have restarted the war on drugs

In , the gap had been almost 12 percentage points. Will the country actually unlearn the lessons that mass incarceration is hurtful? Prominent conservatives in the Senate have publicly disagreed with his sentencing rollback and other criminal justice reversals.

The public and media response to the opioid and heroin epidemics, which are now devastating white communities, are very different from the reactions to the crack epidemic of the s.

The War on Drugs

For some black Americans, that change is both a sign of progress and another troubling mark of how deeply racism warps US politics. But black Americans are also knowingly weary and embittered by the absence of such enlightened thinking when those in our own families were similarly wounded.

In Youngstown, Ohio, Barry-Scott, who has just turned 55, is applying for grants to support renewed after-school and summer programs in the same community center she attended as a child. She is on track to complete an expedited program that will allow her to finish her 10 years of supervised release early, and she continues working as a criminal justice reform advocate. Even with the blessing of the clemency she received — and with her tremendous fortune to be returning home — her family is still processing the toll of her sentence.

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