An internal Justice Department memo distributed this week to top departmental officials urges them to "polarize the debate" on issues such as drugs, AIDS and capital punishment in the closing months of the Reagan administration.

"We must not seek 'consensus,' we must confront," the five-page memo said. "Of course, we must confront sensibly, in ways designed to win the debate and further our agenda," it added, offering an "issue-by-issue analysis that where possible proposes means of polarization."

Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds, who also serves as counselor to Attorney General Edwin Meese III, distributed the memo Monday to top department officials, asking them to "give consideration to ways in which your activities can highlight and reinforce these themes." Its existence was first reported yesterday in The Baltimore Sun.

Terry H. Eastland, director of public affairs at the Justice Department, said he wrote the memo several months ago as "a first rough draft of some thoughts for a breakfast discussion" on criminal justice issues. "It was suggestive in character," Eastland said. "It was not the sort of a finished work product as such."

The memo recommended that the department "attack" a Supreme Court decision last year on the use of victim impact statements in death penalty cases. The rationale for capital punishment, it said, is "deterrence, retribution, and incapacitation (i.e. decapitation.)."

Noting that prison overcrowding is expected to worsen, the memo said that the situation would prompt some to urge "alternatives" to incarceration.

"We must take the side of more prisons, and to polarize the issue we must attack those by name (such as Sen. Paul Simon {D-Ill.}) who take the other approach," it said.

The memo, entitled "A Strategy for the Remaining Months," emphasizes that issues such as drugs, obscenity and acquired immune deficiency syndrome are matters of public health and safety. "We must define them as such, and insist on the definition, in order to keep the debate on our terms," it said.

The paper said the department's drug policy "should send the message that there are two ways to approach drugs: the soft, easy way that emphasizes drug treatment and rehabilitation versus the hard, tough approach that emphasizes strong law enforcement measures and drug testing. Naturally we favor the latter."

As part of this "tough approach," the memo recommends prosecuting drug users and pressing local governments to spend more money on drug enforcement, perhaps through a "pledge campaign" in which Meese would ask local law enforcement agencies "to increase their drug spending by a certain (reasonably attainable) percentage."

President Reagan's budget request released last week recommends slashing $69.5 million in grants to state and local governments for drug enforcement efforts.

In one section labeled "Truth in the Courtroom," the memo describes the importance of associating "the search for truth with protecting public safety . . . .

"If you're against exclusionary rule reform, or Miranda reform, you're against truth in the courtroom and you're against public safety," it said. "The issues should be defined in these broad public terms, leaving the technical debates for brief writers and legislators. The purpose is to put the other side on the defensive."

On the AIDS issue, it said, the department should stress that the disease "is not a civil rights or privacy issue, but one of public health and safety.

"While care must be taken to protect civil rights, we must take appropriately designed measures to protect communities against the threats posed by AIDS. We should make periodic reports . . . on any defensive litigation that holds off the privacy advocates who challenge AIDS testing."