Former US Attorney: Return to ‘war on drugs’ a bad idea

Pat Miles
Former U.S. Attorney Pat Miles. (May 16, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new attitude toward prosecuting drug crimes by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office calls for a return to the policies of the so-called “war on drugs” that preceded the Obama administration.

It’s a change that will mean more people serving longer federal prison sentences.

Patrick Miles was the chief federal prosecutor for the Western District of Michigan for five years, appointed by President Barack Obama. He resigned when the new administration took over in January. He said the edict that came Friday from the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, assures him he made the right decision.

“Going forward, I have empowered our prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense, as I believe our law allows,” Sessions said in an address to the media.

Sessions’ memo to attorneys reverses the course taken by Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder in 2013, when he told prosecutors to show restraint in prosecuting low-level nonviolent drug offenders.

“It is simply the right and moral thing to do,” Sessions said.

Miles disagrees.

“What they think is tough on crime, but it really isn’t. In some respects, it’s going to make crime worse,” Miles told 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday.

Miles said the federal strategy when he was the U.S. attorney was to focus federal resources on large-scale conspiracies, major drug traffickers and violent offenders. He says when prosecutors focus on throwing the book at small-time participants, they can be distracted from the big picture.

“Focusing on the problems rather than just everybody we can charge for as long as we can charge, let’s do it,” Miles said. “You really want to leverage the federal prosecutions to attack the large-scale drug trafficking organizations and those who are using violence.”

Mandatory minimum sentences passed during 1980s forced judges to impose lengthy prison terms for drug trafficking, a move that put a lot more people in prison and eventually led to reforms just a few years ago that had broad bipartisan support.

“The facts show that violent crime overall has been reduced over the past decade, nationally, that you have seen reductions in some of the drug trade,” Miles said. “I’m very concerned about an explosion in the private prison industry.”

Miles said a powerful private prison industry means private prison lobbyists pushing for laws that increase the prison population and their bottom line. The industry contributed heavily to the Trump campaign.

He said indiscriminate use of mandatory minimum sentences is not just bad policy and bad for taxpayers, but also impacts those who are imprisoned.

He said he is glad to see the new policy does give individual U.S. attorneys discretion in applying the harshest possible penalties in drug crimes. But the federal prosecutors have to obtain the approval of a supervisor if they intend to deviate.

Asked if the actions by the Trump administration gives him greater confidence that leaving was the right decision, he said: “In a sense it does, it is.”

Miles said he is considering running for Michigan attorney general as a Democrat in 2018.