State Department Memorandum
Released May 12, 2017

Policy Summary

Attorney General Jeff Sessions put out a recent memorandum requiring federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense”. This memo asks prosecutors to seek and prosecute suspects for the crimes with the harshest penalties; that includes prosecuting nonviolent offenders for crimes that have minimum sentences. Any prosecutor wishing to seek lesser charges must obtain approval from the Attorney General. The memo can be found HERE.


Critics of the new policy warn that this will lead to an increase in HIV transmission, as minimum sentencing seriously affects nonviolent drug offenders. A recent study found that these strict policies lead to negative health outcomes. Injection drug users are driven underground for fear of persecution, where they are more likely to share needles and avoid seeking treatment or testing. Republican Senator Rand Paul wrote that this policy is a step backward for the fight against the opioid epidemic, as it will severely punish those who would benefit most from treatment. LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources

This brief was compiled by Elizabeth Kiefer. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact



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