Skip to content Skip to navigation

AFSC condemns DOJ’s escalation of failed drug policy

AFSC condemns DOJ’s escalation of failed drug policy

Published: May 15, 2017
Prison fence lined with barbed wire and a watch tower
Photo: AFSC

For Immediate Release

AFSC condemns DOJ’s escalation of failed drug policy

Quaker org says policy hurts communities, benefits prison profiteers

NEW YORK, NY (May 15, 2017) – On May 12, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was reversing Obama-era reforms and instead directing federal prosecutors to seek the highest possible charges for drug offenses. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) – a Quaker organization that has been involved in anti-incarceration work since the 1960’s – condemned the change.

“There is no legitimate public safety justification for this change in policy,” said Lewis Webb, the Healing Justice Program Coordinator for AFSC’s New York office. “Decades of research prove that treatment and alternatives to incarceration are more effective at reducing recidivism and violent crime.”

The announcement from the Justice Department is a departure from the broad bipartisan consensus that the drug war and a “tough on crime” approach are policy failures. After decades of grassroots advocacy, both state and federal policies and guidelines had been moving towards reform.

“The racial impact of these policies cannot be overstated,” said Jamie Bissonette Lewey, Healing Justice Program Coordinator for AFSC in New England. “Tough on crime approaches resulted in the loss of two generations of young people of color to lengthy imprisonment because the drug war was waged in communities of color and on Indian reservations. These communities suffered this loss as cultural genocide and need the resources to recover and respond, not enhanced punishment.” While people of all races and ethnicities use drugs at essentially the same rates, profiling, stops, arrests, prosecutions and incarceration disproportionately target people of color.

Many advocates questioned the motivations behind the Justice Department’s new policies. “Given that there is no evidence-based rationale for these changes, we can only conclude that the real reason for the move is a bailout of the for-profit prison industry and other special interests,” said Caroline Isaacs, Director of AFSC’s Arizona Program, which has worked for years to expose the dangers of for-profit incarceration. “Companies like CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group have spent millions on campaign contributions and lobbying the federal government. They are the only ones who stand to benefit from this new policy.”

The American Friends Service Committee calls on the Justice Department to rescind the memo, and will continue to work for meaningful changes that address the root causes of mass incarceration and direct resources to recovery and reparation.


The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.