Mandatory Minimum Sentence Debate
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The United States has a larger percentage of its population in prison than any country on Earth. Over 1.7 million human beings languish behind bars. Well over sixty percent of federal prisoners, and a significant fraction of state and local prisoners, are non-violent drug offenders, mostly first time offenders.
The average sentence for a first
time, non-violent drug offender is longer than the average sentence for rape,
child molestation, bank robbery or manslaughter. As our prisons rapidly fill to
bursting, rapists and murderers are being given early release to make room for
"no parole" drug offenders. While law enforcement continues to go
after relatively easy drug violation arrests, every major city in this country
has a record number of unsolved homicides.
It's been empirically shown that education and treatment is seven times more cost effective than arrest and incarceration for substance addiction, yet we continue to spend more tax dollars on prisons than treatment. In this 'Land of Liberty', we spend more money on prisons than on schools.
The drug "kingpins" and
professional criminals continually plea-bargain their way to freedom, or leave
the country with all their wealth, while the low level offenders and innocent
patsies, with no information to trade for leniency, and no resources for an
adequate defense, are sentenced to insanely long terms. We are warring on the
afflicted and the vulnerable.
Don't think for a minute that you and your family are immune, because "we don't do drugs". As the Criminal Justice juggernaut swells out of control, "innocent until proven guilty" has lost all meaning. You can be sucked into the prison-industrial complex on little more than a whim, and spend a lifetime trying to find relief. An evening spent with the wrong crowd; a moment of rebellion or bad judgment, and your sons and daughters will fall victim. It has become insanely easy to prove conspiracy based on mere association and bartered for hearsay. Drugs are everywhere, from the inner city ghettos to the gated estates of the privileged classes. One mistake, one moment of unfortunate coincidence, and your loved ones will be gone, locked up for ten years to life. One day soon, it will happen to you, or your family, or your friends; make no mistake. This madness must stop now.
The mandatory minimum sentences were criticized by the U.S. Sentencing Commission as early as 1991. In this report the commission found that all defense lawyers, and nearly half of prosecutors queried had serious problems with mandatory minimum sentences. Most of the judges pronounced them "manifestly unjust." The 1991 sentencing report particularly criticized the transfer of power in courts from judges who are supposed to be impartial to prosecutors, who are not.
With even national candidates admitting past drug use doesn't it seem hypocritical to impose mandatory sentencing for drug use.