The time for prison-sentencing reform is long overdue.
Too many people have received ludicrously large sentences for small crimes, most especially for the possession of drugs. Many years ago, in the 1960s, long before marijuana was legalized or de-criminalized to a degree, some users of pot – especially in Texas – were sentenced to up to 20-year prison terms, which was an absolute outrage that most people didn’t seem to care about.
Now, because of mandatory sentencing guidelines and other factors, drug users are still being sentenced to long stretches of prison time more appropriate for rapists and killers.
Make no mistake: Drugs are a scourge in this and other countries, especially harder drugs like meth and heroin. The vicious drug cartels in Mexico, Colombia and elsewhere feed off of addicts and even “recreational” drug users. Where drugs exist, misery, madness, prostitution and crimes follow. And the more illegal the drug, the more money it fetches to the fiends who harvest, make and peddle those drugs, and the more families are shredded and destroyed.
The surest way to stop the misery and the prison sentences is for everybody to just stop doing drugs, or as former First Lady Nancy Reagan famously said, “Just say no!” But, realistically, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Still, people who get caught selling and doing drugs should absolutely not get off the hook legally. They should be held accountable by the legal system, but the question is how?
Most everyone would likely agree drug users and sellers should get some kind of punishment along with mandated treatment. For first-offenders, probably the best solution is to give them some jail time, then a probationary period during which they must participate in drug treatment and successfully complete those programs. If they don’t, they will be re-arrested and have to do more jail – or prison – time. That is how the law currently deals with those convicted of alcohol offenses.
Many programs to rehabilitate offenders have been cut. In some places, such programs literally do not exist. To help offenders and their families, such programs must be available at full funding. According to Change.org, this country spent $80 billion in 2010 to pay for the prison costs of 2.3 million inmates. Since some prisons have been privatized, they’ve become money-making propositions for profits generated by the incarceration of people. It’s a disturbing trend, to say the least.
The U.S. Congress is pondering passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015, which has strong bipartisan support. It would, among other measures, reduce the minimum sentencing requirements for some drug offenses. It would also help reduce racial disparities in sentencing. Just as important, it would save money by reducing prison populations, which are now three times what they were in 1991. Any saved money could be used for hugely needed rehabilitation programs.
Let your legislators know you support the Smarter Sentencing Act.