Sunday, January 15, 2006

Myths and reality of mandatory sentencing

Sorry kids. I ran out of steam yesterday. I laid down for "just a moment" to rest my aching back and next thing I knew I woke up out of a bizarre dream this morning. I was dreaming about Glenn Reynolds. He was saying something nice to me, so you know it wasn't real. But on to the news.

The NYT was on a roll this week. I missed this really well written piece on mandatory sentencing. It points out how school zone enhancements function as a discriminatory policy against blacks and Hispanics, who mostly live in urban settings where it it's next to impossible not to be living in a school zone. These enhancements were presumably enacted to keep dealers out of school yards but in the vast majority of the cases, the offenders weren't selling to kids. Excerpts:
The mandatory sentencing laws that have swept this country since the 70's have clearly done more harm than good. The inmate population has skyrocketed, driving prison costs to bankrupting levels, while having no impact at all on the drug problem. By taking away judicial discretion, the laws have led the country to write off first-time offenders who might have deserved second chances and to imprison addicts who could otherwise have been effectively and less expensively handled through treatment programs.

The broader message of this study is that the country can't just imprison its way out of the drug problem. Coping with this issue - while reducing prison costs - will require a complex set of strategies, including drug abuse treatment and prevention services and increased judicial discretion in sentencing.
If you have a moment drop the NYT a line, (150 words or less) and thank them for focusing on this issue.


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