WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ former colleagues in the Senate are pushing back on his order to federal prosecutors to pursue the most severe penalties possible for defendants, including mandatory minimum sentences, and introducing legislation to give federal judges more sentencing discretion.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who co-sponsored the legislation, said that Sessions’ new policy will “accentuate” the existing “injustice” in the criminal justice system.

“Mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe and turning mistakes into tragedies,” said Paul. “As this legislation demonstrates, Congress can come together in a bipartisan fashion to change these laws.”

Last week, in a two-page memo to federal prosecutors across the country, Sessions overturned former attorney general Eric Holder’s sweeping criminal charging policy that instructed his prosecutors to avoid charging certain defendants with offenses that trigger long mandatory minimum sentences. In its place, Sessions told his more than 5,000 assistant U.S. attorneys to charge defendants with the most serious crimes, carrying the toughest penalties.

After Sessions released his new policy, it drew bipartisan criticism the policy would mark a return to mass incarceration, especially of minorities. It was embraced, however, by the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, whose president said it would restore more tools to do their jobs.

“An outgrowth of the failed War on Drugs, mandatory sentencing strips critical public safety resources away from law enforcement strategies that actually make our communities safer,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Leahy and Paul introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., are introducing a companion bill in the House. The legislation would allow federal judges to tailor sentences on a case-by-case basis. It would also reduce correctional spending, which accounts for nearly a third of Justice Department’s budget.

During President Barack Obama’s second term, similar sentencing reform legislation was introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The legislation, which had 37 Senate sponsors, would have reduced mandatory minimum sentences for gun and drug crimes.