Should we be incarcerating people for minor drug offenses when we’re out of money and can’t afford to hire more police officers or build new jails?
In its new report,
Correcting Course: Lessons from the 1970 Repeal of Mandatory Minimums,
the Washington advocacy organization, Families Against Mandatory
Minimums, finds that, to date, “No conclusive studies demonstrate any
positive impact of federal mandatory minimum sentences on the rate at
which drugs are being manufactured, imported, and trafficked throughout
The U.S. Congress first enacted mandatory sentences for drug
offenses in 1951 only to repeal the law in 1970 because it was not
reducing drug use. Then, in 1986, the Congress set new mandatory
sentences aimed at locking up big-time drug traffickers and, in 1988,
expanded the law to apply to simple possession of crack cocaine.
By 2008, more than one-half of the 200,000 federal prisoners
were serving time for drug offenses. But instead of filling federal
prisons with drug kingpins, 66 percent of crack cocaine offenders in
2005 were low-level street dealers, lookouts and couriers and only 33
percent were higher-level suppliers. Instead of ending the drug war,
mandatory sentences promise to keep prisons full of nonviolent, low
level offenders, while drug use continues unabated.
Why can’t we create a proper diversion and rehabilitation program that
allows the drug-disabled to regain control of their lives while in
pursuit of their dreams?