US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that he has directed his federal prosecutors to pursue criminals with the most severe penalties possible, including mandatory minimum sentences, the media reported.
In a two-page memo to federal prosecutors across the country, Sessions on Friday overturned former attorney general Eric H. Holder's sweeping criminal charging policy that instructed his prosecutors to avoid charging certain defendants with offences that would trigger long mandatory minimum sentences, reports The Washington Post.
In its place, Sessions told his more than 5,000 assistant US attorneys to charge defendants with the most serious crimes, carrying the toughest penalties.
In a speech later on Friday, Sessions said the move was meant to ensure that prosecutors would be "un-handcuffed and not micro-managed from Washington" as they worked to bring the most significant cases possible.
"We are returning to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress, plain and simple," Sessions said.
"If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way, we will not be wilfully blind to your misconduct," The Washington Post quoted Sessions as saying.
In response, Holder, who launched his policy in August 2013, called the Sessions' move "an unwise and ill-informed decision" that "will take this nation back to a discredited past".
"The policy announced today is not tough on crime," Holder said.
"It is dumb on crime. It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety."
The new policy is expected to lead to more federal prosecutions and an increase in the federal prison population.