A week after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told federal prosecutors to "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense" and follow mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, a bipartisan group of prosecutors at the state and local level is expressing concern.
Thirty current and former prosecutors signed an open letter, which was released Friday by the nonprofit Fair and Just Prosecution. The prosecutors say that even though they do not have to answer Sessions' call, the attorney general's directive "marks an unnecessary and unfortunate return to past 'tough on crime' practices" that will do more harm than good.
"What you're seeing in this letter is a different wind of change that's blowing through the criminal justice field," said Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor and executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a national network working with newly elected prosecutors.
"There does seem at the federal level to be a return to the tough-on-crime, seek-the-maximum-sentence, charge-and-pursue-whatever-you-can-prove approach," Krinsky said. But, she added, at a local level, some believe "there are costs that flow from prosecuting and sentencing and incarcerating anyone and everyone who crosses the legal line, and we need to be more selective and smarter in how we promote both the safety and the health of our communities."
Signers of the letter include Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Karl Racine, attorney general of the District of Columbia.
The prosecutors say that there are no real benefits to Sessions' May 10 directive, but they noted "significant costs."
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said certain approaches, such as mandatory minimums, do not accomplish what they intend.
"I'm just a firm believer in people using judgment and discretion in every case, and that includes judges," he said.