As Sessions nomination advances, criminal justice reform hangs in the balance

Washington (CNN)The future of criminal justice reform hangs in the balance as the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, was advanced in a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Activists worry that Trump, who preached “law and order” during his campaign and threatened last week to “send in the Feds” to violence-plagued Chicago, would halt former President Barack Obama’s reforms, and institute new policies that could worsen conditions.
    “The Republican Party right now is divided between people who recognize now that the criminal justice system is a big failed, unaccountable government bureaucracy that’s wasting money and lives on the one hand,” CNN political commentator Van Jones told CNN. “On the other hard, you have people who want to stick with the same old dumb on crime, lock ’em up policies that have made things worse, not better. Where Trump comes down is not clear yet.”
    Trump is expected to move ahead with an executive action this week addressing local crime-fighting and curbing the sale of drugs in the United States.
    Here’s why activists and civil rights groups fear Trump’s White House could turn a deaf ear to racial biases in law enforcement and policing:

    Sessions’ record on sentencing reform disputed

    Trump’s nomination of Sessions to be the next attorney general has exacerbated concerns that policing and sentencing reforms initiated by Obama would come to an end.
    As President, Obama granted 1,715 commutations for non-violent drug offenders — more than the past 12 presidents combined. Of those, 568 of the individuals who received lesser sentences had been sentenced to death.

    Sessions slammed Obama’s efforts as a “weakening of some of our most important criminal sentencing policies.”
    As a candidate, Trump accused the Obama White House of giving “drug dealers and gang members” a “slap on the wrist” and turning them “loose on the street.”
    The American Civil Liberties Union, a strong advocate for criminal justice reform, wrote a letter last week urging leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a second hearing and cancel the vote on the senator’s nomination.

    RECAP:

      JUST WATCHED

      RECAP: Jeff Sessions confirmation hearing (Day 1)

    MUST WATCH

    And William Smith, a longtime Sessions staffer, defended the senator’s record at the hearing, saying, “After 20 years of knowing Sen. Sessions, I have not seen the slightest evidence of racism because it does not exist.”
    But the NAACP, which vehemently opposes Sessions as attorney general, issued an action alert for supporters Wednesday, urging them to contact their lawmakers and oppose Sessions.
    “Sen. Sessions as AG is deeply troubling, and supports an old, ugly history where Civil Rights were not regarded as core American values,” the NAACP tweeted.
    Sessions previously called the ACLU and the NAACP “un-American” and said these organizations “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”

    Trump supports stop-and-frisk tactics

    Throughout the 2016 campaign Trump argued repeatedly that stop-and-frisk policies reduced crime in New York City and in September, he called for implementing these controversial policies in Chicago.
    A US District Court judge ruled in 2013 that New York City’s use of stop-and-frisk is unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment and has been used to target people based on race.
    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio disputed Trump’s claim that the practice led to a reduction of crime.
    “With stop-and-frisk down nearly 97% from its high point in 2011, crime in New York City is now at record lows,” de Blasio wrote in a September op-ed for CNN.
    “Stop-and-frisk was not a driver of that public safety progress. Donald Trump’s refusal to admit this and his willingness to inflame tensions for political purposes isn’t just foolish. It’s dangerous,” he added.
    Despite the tactic being ruled unconstitutional, Trump insisted that stop-and-frisk is “constitutional” during the first presidential debate and said that implementing it in Chicago would “overwhelmingly” save African-American and Hispanic lives.
    Sessions later agreed with Trump, telling Bustle, “It’s all about how that is done.”

    The role of police reform

    Over the past two years, Obama-appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch launched several Justice Department investigations into police departments around the nation, including Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago, revealing patterns of racial discrimination in policing and cases of excessive force.
    In some cases, the Obama White House has used consent decrees to make changes in policing, which require the city to implement reforms under court supervision, whether the police department agrees with the findings or not.
    Whether a Trump administration will act to address these findings, open new investigations or utilize consent degrees is yet to be seen.

    Donald

      JUST WATCHED

      Donald Trump on the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement

    MUST WATCH

    “There is a perception, not altogether unjustified, that this department and the Civil Rights Division goes beyond fair and balanced treatment. … That’s been a troubling issue for a number of years, frankly,” Sessions said during a Judiciary Senate Committee hearing in November 2015.
    Trump slammed the “Black Lives Matter” movement as a candidate, lamented a “war on police,” and accused the group of helping to instigate police shootings through their protests and rallies against police brutality.
    When asked in July if he would investigate “Black Lives Matter” as president, Trump suggested that his attorney general would “do something.”
    “We are going to have to, perhaps, talk to the attorney general about it or do something,” he said.
    In a statement released following Trump’s election, the Black Lives Matter movement, called on people to organize: “Donald Trump has promised more death, disenfranchisement and deportations. We believe him. The violence he will inflict in office, and the permission he gives for others to commit violence, is just beginning to emerge. In the face of this, our commitment remains the same: protect ourselves and our communities.”

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/01/politics/obama-trump-criminal-justice-reform/index.html