Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Drug Policy Reform

The use of mandatory minimums within our judicial system is not winning the war on drugs. This country needs drug law reforms to turn the tide on the war on drugs, and minimize their impact on our society. This comes from rehabilitation programs that are more effective and less costly for our government. Introduction Our country has gone to extremes to try and win the war on drugs. There is no evidence to show that they have made any real impact in ending or even lowering the use of drugs in this country.

In1986 the federal government enacted mandatory minimum drug sentences. These laws force judges to comply with a minimum prison sentence based on the nature of the drug crime. By doing this, the federal government has tied the hands of our judges to use their judgment depending on the case. Their argument for this is it will deter people from committing drug crimes in the future. My argument is that we are treating an addiction which needs both medical and psychological help to resolve, not longer prison sentences. Argument for Mandatory Minimums

In 1986 mandatory minimums were enacted to put an end to the cocaine and crack epidemic that was going on in our nation’s inner cities. The focus was if they could apprehend the drug kingpins and lock them away for many years in prison, they would lose their realm of control of the drug world. The reality of the situation is that many gang leaders are in prison today, and have just as much control over the drug trade as they did when they were free men. Many say that the laws have inadvertently become a racial problem within this country. Laws on mandatory minimum sentences are much harsher on crack than cocaine.

Since crack is predominantly used among African Americans within this country, they received much harsher punishments than cocaine users who are predominantly white. Argument against Mandatory Minimums We are not simply dealing with a bad behavior that is a scourge on society. We are dealing with extremely addictive drugs that a prison sentence will do almost no good in helping people kick their habits, and thus their old way of life. These people need medical and psychiatric help in order to rehabilitate them into the nine to five taxpaying Americans that our country wants them to be.

Many drug dealers started out as users and began to sell the drug in order to pay for their own habit. Mandatory minimum prison sentences for people who are sadly destroying their lives to maintain their own personal habit are not going to be reformed in our nation’s prisons. Most of the people within our prison system are their because of non-violent drug crimes. They are not horrible people who are their because of rape, murder, armed robbery, etc… People who argue in favor of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses say it is working by putting dealers behind bars.

The fact is though that most of the people behind bars due to these laws are low level dealers. “In fiscal year 2005, 61. 5% of all federal crack cocaine defendants were low-level offenders such as mules or street dealers. Only 8. 4% were high-level dealers. ” (Mandatory Minimums) Mandatory minimums only go by the weight of the substance that you were selling. It is clear by this data that the weights set in our current laws do not target high-level dealers as well as they were intended to. Rehabilitation Centers vs. Prison

Rehabilitation of our country’s drug users not only has a higher success rate than that of our prisons, it is also more cost efficient. It is what you refer to as a win-win. The amount of people within our jail and prison systems is estimated to be above six million people. Approximately half of these inmates used drugs regularly the month prior to their apprehension. It is fair to say then that nearly half of our prison population is candidates for drug rehabilitation programs rather than prison systems. The average cost for incarcerating an individual for a year is $20,000.

The average cost of treatment at a rehabilitation center is around $9,000. It currently costs our government around one billion dollars annually to incarcerate its prison population. By taking the half of the prison population that are habitual users and putting them in treatment centers, the government could save a quarter of a million dollars a year. Not only that, but the repeat offender rate for those that have gone through the treatment centers is only a fourth of that for prison sentences. Drug courts are a new movement going across our nation. A court system set up to deal with drug crimes only.

Drug courts are set up to give first time offenders a second chance. Conditions of sentencing typically involve mandatory drug testing along with therapy. If first time offenders can successfully complete the treatment program in most cases their crime is removed from their criminal record. Since many first time offenders are juveniles or young adults, this allows them to receive federal aid through FAFSA. In turn it makes it easier for them to receive higher education services, which gives them a better chance at getting the skills they need for jobs.

This in turn makes it more unlikely that they will revert to their old lifestyles of drug dealing now that they are treated for a drug addiction and have been given the tools they need to succeed. Drug courts are very strict though. If a participant in the program fails to attend a therapy meeting or has a positive return on a drug test, they are sent directly to jail. The program is only for those who want to change their lives. It is true that there are some people who do not want to change and they should be in jail if they do not want to reform to the laws of this country.

The idea of drug reform in this country may be a daunting task, but it needs to be done. If we do nothing about the problem it will never go away, and as it has shown so far it will only get worse. The old ways of thinking are clearly not working. Something needs to be done about this problem. There is a reason why we have the highest incarceration rate of all industrialized nations. It is because half of our incarcerated citizens are non-violent drug offenders. If we can move towards treating an illness instead of punishing a crime, our country will be better off.

Less people will be incarcerated and will be productive, moving our country towards a better tomorrow. Mandatory Minimum laws within this country need major reform due to the injustice that they create. While most of the injustice was done inadvertently, nonetheless it is still there. Our country has failed to take one step closer in winning the war on drugs. It is time for America to realize it has a drug addiction problem that cannot be fixed with lengthy prison sentences. Our country needs to change the mandatory minimum laws. Cocaine and crack need to be punishable equally.

In this country it is estimated that there are four million people with addictions to either crack or cocaine. About half of the nation’s prison population is in there for non-violent drug offenses. With a prison population of one and a half million people, that’s three quarters of a million non-violent drug offenders not receiving the correct treatment. Cocaine use has continued to rise since the 1980’s while crack use has stayed steady. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in this country. It has had research to show that it is a gateway drug. Users of marijuana are more likely to try drugs like crack and cocaine.

Studies show that most users of marijuana have tried the drug before their sophomore year in high school. Educational systems such as D. A. R. E. are already in place as good educational tools against drugs. Our society needs to be honest about the dangers of drugs. Many anti-drug commercials of the past could go as far as to say a hit of marijuana will make you kill your parents. Many commercials of today are starting to show more honesty. Instead of saying that buying pot is the same as putting money into the hands of terrorists, they are stating the truth that it does typically make you less active.

This in turn usually leads to people not completing goals, and not completing any of their goals. Alcohol is the second most illegally used drug by minors. Education about the dangers of alcohol is equally important. Alcoholism is a major problem within this country, which typically has major effects on families. Alcoholism can lead to violent households. More teens die from drinking and driving than any other way of death. Alcohol like marijuana is considered a gateway drug. This is why it is so important that we attempt to stop irresponsible drinking behaviors.

Essentially drug addicts are addicted to the feeling of euphoria that comes upon them when endorphins flood the brain with the use of the drug. Drug rehabilitation centers have found great success at treating people with addiction to crack and cocaine with anti-depressants. The National Institute of Drug Abuse is taking a different approach to the problem. They are developing a cocaine-vaccine that virtually eliminates all effects of the drug. This would ensure that even if an addict were to have a relapse, the drug would have no effect, and the incentive to do the drug is taken away.

Dealers of crack and cocaine usually were crack and cocaine users first. These drugs are incredibly addictive. For users to support their habits many of them turn to dealing the drug. If our society can find a way to break the cycle of addiction there is hope that we can start to turn the tide on the war on drugs. Our government simply has to recognize that we are dealing with an addiction crisis, and not necessarily bad people who are the scourge of society. Drug courts are a new movement going across our nation. A court system set up to deal with drug crimes only.

These courts are now operating or have plans to be operating in all fifty states. The first drug court was established in Dade County in 1981. Drug courts are set up to give first time offenders a second chance. Conditions of sentencing typically involve mandatory drug testing along with therapy. If first time offenders can successfully complete the treatment program in most cases their crime is removed from their criminal record. Since many first time offenders are juveniles or young adults, this allows them to receive federal aid through FAFSA.

In turn it makes it easier for them to receive higher education services, which gives them a better chance at getting the skills they need for jobs. This in turn makes it more unlikely that they will revert to their old lifestyles of drug dealing now that they are treated for a drug addiction and have been given the tools they need to succeed. Drug courts are very strict though. If a participant in the program fails to attend a therapy meeting or has a positive return on a drug test, they are sent directly to jail. The program is only for those who want to change their lives.

It is true that there are some people who do not want to change and they should be in jail if they do not want to reform to the laws of this country. Along with anti-depressants and revolutionary new research being done to address this nation’s addiction to drugs the twelve step process is the most used system for drug rehabilitation. The twelve step process forces the user to admit he or she is powerless over the drug and that a higher power can help them restore their sanity. This has its own constitutional conflictions with the separation of church and state.

The twelve step process is only one option that can be taken towards drug rehabilitation though. It could be set up where defendants could choose a faith based rehabilitation program through the state or a non faith based rehabilitation program. There is no one strategy that works for every addict. Each case needs to be dealt with on a personal basis. They need to get to the bottom of why they want to use drugs. There is typically an underlying issue in a user’s life that causes them to search for an escape. The escape that ends many people in prison for lengthy sentences happens to come from crack and cocaine for too many people.

Our rehabilitation centers need to work closely with the patients’ family whenever this is possible. Most drug users have families that are drug users as well. It is a perpetual cycle that continues to go on. It continues to go on because the underlying problems within the family are not addressed and they continue to turn to drugs in an attempt to escape the issues. Families are typically the best support system for a user trying to go clean. Without the help of the family or a family like atmosphere, users find it difficult to see a reason why they should quit.

They need to see the impact that it makes on their loved ones to make it real to them. The ugliness needs to be shown in order for the user to see the full consequences of his or her actions. I am not proposing that we get rid of prison sentences for drug offenders by any means. We should only offer rehab to first time offenders who will be able to show whether they truly wish to change their lives for the better. If you have been through the program once and reverted back, then you have not proven to society that you are willing to be a productive law-biding citizen.

Everyone deserves a second chance, but not necessarily a third or fourth. Rehabilitation of our country’s drug users not only has a higher success rate than that of our prisons, it is also more cost efficient. The amount of people within our jail and prison systems is estimated to be above six million people. Approximately half of these inmates used drugs regularly the month prior to their apprehension. It is fair to say then that nearly half of our prison population is candidates for drug rehabilitation programs rather than prison systems. The average cost for incarcerating an individual for a year is $20,000.

The average cost of treatment at a rehabilitation center is around $9,000. It currently costs our government around one billion dollars annually to incarcerate its prison population. By taking the half of the prison population that are habitual users and putting them in treatment centers, the government could save a quarter of a billion dollars a year. Not only that but the repeat offender rate for those that have gone through the treatment centers is only a fourth of that for a prison sentence. Rehabilitation centers have a success rate of sixty to seventy five percent.

When those figures are applied to the prison population that means that at the lowest success rate twenty five percent of our prison population would become productive members of society. While the repeat offender rate for rehabilitation centers is between forty and twenty five percent, prison are seventy five percent. With our current system over half a million of our non-violent offenders will be back in prison for the same crime, while with rehabilitation at worst it would be around three hundred thousand. The key to success with our rehabilitation centers is to provide long term assistance.

It will be much better off for the nation as a whole to treat the triggers of addiction before it gets out of hand. Yes it is the addicts fault the he or she is addicted, but this does not mean that we should let society hurt on a principle of stubbornness. We should help our fellow man stay clean if he wants to be clean. With long term assistance programs for patients of rehabilitation programs, the success rate can reach as high as ninety five percent. I am not naive enough to think that this high of a number will work just as well for prisoners.

Some prisoners simply do not want to break their addiction. If they do not want to change their lives, there is very little that rehab will do for a patient. Society has treated the drug problem within this country with extremely harsh punishments. We have been blind to see that we have been approaching the problem with the wrong strategy. Rehabilitation and education are the two strongest weapons in the war on drugs. If we change the lives of drug offenders, we will be able to exchange a large portion of our prison population into productive members of society.

This would turn people who used to be a burden on taxpayers into taxpayers themselves. This would ultimately help the economy of America and the overall quality of life. The idea of drug reform in this country may be a daunting task, but it needs to be done. If we do nothing about the problem it will never go away, and as it has shown so far it will only get worse. The old ways of thinking are clearly not working. Something needs to be done about this problem. There is a reason why we have the highest incarceration rate of all industrialized nations.

It is because half of our incarcerated citizens are non-violent drug offenders. If we can move towards treating an illness instead of punishing a crime, our country will be better off. Less people will be incarcerated citizens are non-violent drug offenders. If we can move towards treating an illness instead of punishing a crime, our country will be better off. Less people will be incarcerated and will be productive, moving our country towards a better tomorrow.