OTHER OPINION: Mandatory sentencing failed to win war

Attorney General Eric Holder appears to be on the right track in suggesting that we re-examine whom we send to prison, why we send them, and for how long we send them.

We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken, Holder said according to The Washington Post.

And with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate not merely to warehouse and to forget.

Beginning in 1980, mandatory sentences for federal crimes, especially crimes related to illegal drugs, were put into effect.


Some of it had to do with the politics of getting tough on crime, but some of it had to do with the anguish of families who lost loved ones directly or indirectly to drugs.

Less than a decade after President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse public enemy No. 1, cocaine use and its marketing were spiraling out of control.

The Drug Enforcement Administration reported 19,884 domestic arrests in 1986, and anywhere from 29,000 to 34,000 every year in the last 10 years.

The chart doesn’t acknowledge that since the DEA started tracking those drugs in 1986, a whole new heartbreak has emerged as the non-therapeutic use of prescription drugs has become the high of choice for many.

Surely one aspect to ponder is mandatory sentencing, which, the Post recalls, American Bar Association lawyer James E. Felman in testimony three years ago before the U.S. Sentencing Commission called the antithesis of rational sentencing policy.

If what we want to do is eliminate or significantly reduce illicit drug use, surely it is time to realize that mandatory sentencing has not brought that about.

Acknowledging that makes it possible to seek a better way.

The Times Record, Fort Smith

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  • DoubleTalk

    Interesting you put a timetable on drugs but take an opposite position on things like education, poverty, other crimes etc programs. The crime of dealing drugs doesn’t stop with the act, it includes the ruining of others lives, the increased enrollment of disability claims (they are now mentally ill since you can’t draw for drug/alcohol), the effects on family etc. The murders, deaths, burglaries etc associated. Drug education hasn’t helped. It is a easy living helping destroying others.

    Now should some small time, user pushers get 20 years for selling a couple of pills ? Probably not but they may have just been caught that time. Is there personal responsibility for those buying drugs for abuse ? Sure is. There is no solution to drug dealing as long as there is such a tremendous risk/reward. Some will abuse regardless.