Should Drug Convictions Carry Mandatory Jail Sentences

Essay, Research Paper

Should drug convictions carry mandatory jail sentences?

The fact that the United States has a drug problem is indisputable. The amount of people using and or addicted to illegal substances has increased steadily over the years. A 1917 survey showed that almost 11 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds admitted to using illegal drugs in the months preceding the survey. Other survey results were even more astonishing. The federal government in conjunction with state and local authorities are attempting to combat this terrible problem. They have used such techniques as campaigning aimed at youths using radio and television to reduce the drug use at its early stages. But despite such well-founded campaigns such as this the federal government is making a large mistake with one of its newer policies to combat drugs. This policy is founded upon laws that give stiff mandatory jail sentences for all drug convictions. The use of mandatory jail sentences is failing and will fail if continued because it creates an unfair system of punishment, overcrowds our prisons, fails to succeed where treatment has and levies incredible costs that have to be absorbed by taxpayers.

The use of mandatory jail sentences for drug convictions creates a readily seen loophole within the justice system. Normally the judge is given the final say in sentencing but this changes because of the mandatory jail sentences. Suddenly the power of sentencing is not in the judge s hands as it should be but rather in the hands of the prosecutor. This is because the judge is required to meet out certain sentences for these charges and it is the prosecutors who determine whether to bring charges that carry a mandatory minimum sentence. What occurs is that often prosecutors trade higher-level drug dealers easier sentences in return for information. Jonathan Caulkins, author of a Rand Corporation was quoted, The principal problem with current mandatory minimums is that they aren t targeted sufficiently toward the high-level dealers. This is supported by the fact that the number of low level dealers has increased dramatically in prisons while upper level has not. Another problem with taking away the judge s power is that we have lost the case specific sentencing that only a judge could give. Here are only a few of the thousands of examples of this. Thomas Eddy was a sophomore at State University of New York, Binghamton, and a National Merit Scholar who had his future ahead of him. In 1979 he was arrested for selling two ounces of cocaine and sentenced to 15 year to life. Even the judge said she wouldn t have given me that sentence if she had discretion, but she didn t, said Mr. Eddy. In another instance a mother of five was sentenced to fifteen years for smuggling what she though was gold but was in fact cocaine. Although smuggling gold is a crime it carried a much smaller punishment then smuggling cocaine. A Vietnam veteran who had practiced medicine for 22 years was sentenced to 10 years in jail because without his knowledge some of his patients had been pretending to have pains in order to have him prescribe drugs which were then taken by the patients and given to a dealer. A 17-year-old girl was on her first date with a boy. The boy s car was stopped for a broken taillight and four ounces of crack was found in the car. The girl was sentenced to 10 years in jail while her boyfriend plea-bargained and was out in two months. In all these cases the punishment did not fit the crime and because of the mandatory jail sentence there was little the judge could do. Mandatory minimums are also unjust for another reason. According to the JPI study in 1980 283 whites, 260 Hispanics, and 333 blacks were incarcerated in New York prisons for drug offenses. By 1997 the number of whites had almost doubled to 545, but the number of imprisoned latinos had jumped over 1,600 percent to 4.459. And the number of blacks increased mote than 1,300 percent to 4,727. The reason for this is that Virtually all white crack offenders have been prosecuted in sate court, where sentences are far less in comparison to federal courts which carry the stiff mandatory minimums. On the other had most minorities are sent to federal courts. This trend is apparent in almost every state. Richard P. Conaboy, a federal district judge in Pennsylvania was quoted saying More blacks are being punished with these crack laws than whites, To prove this a simple example is given. At age 20, Stephen Green, an African American, was arrested with 70 grams of crack. He was sentenced in a federal court to a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term. Daniel G. Siemianowski, a 37-year-old white, was arrested with 67 grams of crack. He was sentenced in state court to less than a year in jail and probation. This is not to mention the fact that the mandatory jail sentences often punish marijuana dealers more harshly than it does does violent felons. How can we call this justice?

The overcrowding in jails is incredible. Most jails are over their limits and straining to take in the increasing amounts. The primary cause of this is mandatory minimums, the result; violent criminals are paroled in order to make space for drug offenders. In Fall County, Texas the penal system was so overcrowded in 1987 that the parole board was forced to lower its standards to meet parole quotas. In this way Kenneth McDuff a man convicted to life for a triple murder was paroled. Even when the officer who encountered McDuff said he had no conscious and would probably kill again. Three days after McDuff s parole the naked strangled body of 29-year-old Sarafina Parker was found. McDuff was apprehended but not before six other murders were found that he is now being investigated for. This is just one of the many horrifying stories of dangerous prisoners paroled in order to make space for drug offenders. Furthermore drug offenders aren t even really receiving the help they need in prisons. Where drug offenders belong in within treatment facilities specialized to help their problem.

Drug offenders, especially first time drug offenders belong in treatment centers not jails. Studies have found that not only are treatment centers more effective for drug offenders but they are also far cheaper than the cost of paying for an inmate in jail. Treatment instead of prison saves about 20,000 per person a year, according to a study last year by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. One of these programs is called Shock treatment. Shock is a six-month program of physical and mental training. It is a camp, which is designed after a military boot camp. While there you are allowed to pursue your G.E.D. and learn a trade so you are an asset to society when, and if you graduate. Arizona has become the first state to mandate treatment instead of prison for drug offenders. Albert Delatorre a former gang member said this about her therapy Believe me, this is harder than jail, its been a struggle but treatment has helped me become a man. I ve grown up. Similar treatment centers called Drug Courts have sprung up all over New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Kalamazoo County has been at the forefront of new drug courts. Over 307 women have successfully completed it and not returned to drug use. At the same time its drug courts have saved taxpayers 5 million dollars since its creation in 1992. Their success has been used to booster the new movement. Studies of drug treatment courts show that 50 to 65 percent of those who complete the drug program remain drug free and only 4 percent return to criminal activity. Drug courts work, said Judge John R. Schwartz, chief of the city court system in Rochester, N.Y. They treat the underlying disease of addiction. Prison does not break the cycle of addiction. And many statistics show just that. The percent of drug offenders reconvicted of crimes after treatment is substantially less than those coming out of jail. More and more officials are realizing that mandatory minimums were a mistake. National Drug Policy Director Barry McCaffery said We have a failed social policy that had ended up with undue incarceration and inadequate drug treatment, and we are simply going to have to readdress this issue.

The amount of evidence showing that mandatory minimums don t work is too great to ignore. It creates an unfair system of punishment, overcrowds our prisons, fails to succeed where treatment has and levies incredible costs that have to be absorbed by taxpayers. Could anyone truly support a system of justice that sentences a first time drug offender at the age of eighteen to more time than a thirty-year-old child molester? This is not justice and it must be stopped.


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