Sunday, January 22, 2006

The moronics of mandatory sentencing

Via TalkLeft, comes today's illustration of the futility of drug prohibition.
The defendant is 32, with an IQ of 72. He's a low level drug dealer. Under the federal mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, the Judge had no choice but to impose a sentence of life without parole.
The guy was a dupe. A paid runner. What happened to the "kingpin" of the operation?
The boss only got 20 years, because he didn't have two teenage convictions.
And in case you're wondering why the women's prison population is growing. Jeralyn offers this anecdote.
This is a common occurrence in federal courts around the country. Last week I was part of a sentencing hearing of five defendants who had pleaded guilty in a cocaine conspiracy. I watched as the girlfriend of one of the major players who cooperated with the government but had priors years ago got a ten year sentence, while my client in the same case, who did not cooperate and had no priors, got 27 months.
So what is served here? Justice? Not when the punishment is so out of line with the crime. Society? Not when the taxpayer will foot the bill for tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars to incarcerate a barely functional human being for life. Public safety? Not when keeping this guy jail means violent offenders will be released early because all the cells are mandated for consenual drug crimes. The war on some drugs? Not when the only effect is to create another job opening in the black market.

The only ones are being served are those who benefit from the prohibition. The government agencies like the ONDCP who pass out millions of tax dollars to PR firms for ineffective anti-drug ads. The cops who get easy targets. A lot easier to bag a marginally intelligent drug runner than it is to find a car thief, much less a rapist or a murderer. The prison industry that gets a guaranteed warm body count to keep its cells stuffed beyond capacity.

We already have over 2.2 million Americans in jail. Probably half of those inmates could become contributing members of society under a reasonable and humane system that focused more on rehabilitation and less on pure punishment. If we could solve the problem of drug abuse with incarceration, don't you think it would have worked by now?

Meanwhile, our communities struggle to fund schools and fire departments while their budgets are bled dry from the costs of incarceration. There has to a better way.


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