Mandatory Sentencing and the War on Drugs



I am originally from California and I remember when the “Three Strikes” law was passed 18 years ago to lock people up and throw away the key for the conviction of “habitual offenders.” The original intent of the law was to get drug dealers off the streets, but what happened was people who bounced three checks for say, over $100, or a shoplifter who is really bad at shoplifting; are now in prison for life. Last year, California voted on Prop 36 to overwhelmingly to ease the rules on the three strikes law:

The measure, which passed handily by more than a 20 percentage-point margin, revises the Three Strikes Law to impose a life sentence only under two circumstances — when the new felony conviction is “serious or violent,” or for a minor felony crime if the perpetrator is a murderer, rapist or child molester. Under the existing Three Strikes law, only California, out of 24 states with similar laws, allows the third strike to be any felony.

As a result,

offenders who have committed such relatively minor third strikes as stealing a pair of socks, attempting to break into a soup kitchen for food, or forging a check for $146 at Nordstrom have been sentenced to life in prison.


In addition to the California Three Strikes law, many states adopted mandatory sentences for drug offenses. In theory, it was supposed to get drug dealers off the streets, but what is actually happening is that people who use drugs like marijuana are locked up for ridiculous amounts of time and the drug dealers are still out there doing their thing. In fact, what we see a lot of is the small time drug dealers get the most time behind bars, while the DEA allows the big guys to keep on dealing, manufacturing, and smuggling (because they want to investigate and get to the source). So they will spend an obscene amount of taxpayer dollars to lock up the corner drug dealer, or the guy who purchases from them and allow the real threat to continue unabated.

Now I am a crazy liberal who thinks marijuana should be legalized and taxed. Personally, I believe that locking people up for life for non-violent offenses is a serious waste of time, money, and resources. Under these mandatory sentencing for drug offenses (regardless of the drug) there are hundreds of people doing insane sentences for smoking crack, and yet people convicted of murder get less time and the possibility of  parole. People who commit violent crimes against others, get out of jail – while the guy who got caught smoking weed to reduce the effects of chemo (or just for recreation) spend the majority of their life in prison. Not to mention the fact that these laws have the most affect on minorities and the poor.

The article that got me thinking about this particular issue this morning was this one: Long Prison Term Is Less So Thanks to Regrets by a Judge. From the article:

Ms. Dallaire’s arrest for selling and possessing crack cocaine was not her first. Seven years earlier she had been arrested on possession of a similar amount of crack and while in college she had thrown a glass in a barroom brawl, causing an injury. The result was that at her third arrest she was a “career criminal” under the guidelines, tripling her sentence.

Judge Lagueux, nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, made clear at Ms. Dallaire’s original sentencing that he was acting against his own better judgment. “This is one case where the guidelines work an injustice, and I’d like to do something about it but I can’t,” he said then from the bench.

Ms. Dallaire, who graduated from Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, says that she was never very interested in drugs, only in the pocket cash that dealing them provided. Her parents had divorced, the local economy had tanked and she had fallen in with a bad crowd.

“I made a lot of stupid and ridiculous decisions,” she said. She declared herself lucky to have been caught and sent to prison — just not for 15 years. “I deserved to go to prison,” she said. “Thank God I got time. I got my priorities straight.”

This case is a refection of many others in our country that were spurred on by the “War on Drugs” and while I wholeheartedly agree that people who engage in illegal activities should be punished I simply don’t think that locking people up forever is the answer, and it is clearly not working anyway. Our prisons are filled with people serving crazy long sentences for non-violent crimes. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I think there are many solutions and the one simple one is to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.

The War on Drugs, The War on Terror, The War on Christmas, the War on ________ (fill in the blank); These are wars on ideas. They are wars that can’t realistically be fought or won. The War on Drugs can’t be won by locking up the ‘minor’ offenders for life or for long periods of time. The War in Drugs would be better fought by securing our boarders (the money we spend on locking up non-violent offenders could be re-directed here) or by locking up those individuals who manufacture meth at home with their kids watching, or those who distribute drugs on a large scale – not just the corner drug dealer or the person struggling with addiction who purchases it.

In my humble opinion, we should just make all drugs legal. If people choose to destroy their lives with drugs, as long as they aren’t robbing my house to get it – let them. If people want to make money on peoples addictions – let them. We allow for other addictions – alcohol and cigarettes even after studies show what damage they do, and alcohol related offenses kill more people than any other drug combined. Who is the real violent offender? Alcohol distributors? Tobacco companies? A guy can be convicted of multiple DUI’s and the most he will spend in jail is about four years (unless he kills someone) and even then his sentence will be less than that of the woman who sold a handful of crack to another willing adult.

What do you think about the War on Drugs? Do you think laws need to be changed? What about mandatory sentencing for non-violent offenses? Do you have any ideas for solutions on these issues? 




8 thoughts on “Mandatory Sentencing and the War on Drugs

  1. I also was in California 18 years ago (Manhattan Beach) when the three strikes law was passed. At the time, I thought it was a good idea. I tool also think marijuana should be taxed and legal everywhere, and putting people with minor offenses in prison for life is disgusting.

    • Shawn, thanks for reading and commenting. It is one of those things that sounds like a great solution at the time – but history shows that it really isn’t a good idea at all and does more to hurt our country than help it.

  2. I think jailing people for life for minor offenses is awful and a waste. I also think the war on drugs is a waste of resources. I don’t have a solution, but I know what’s happening isn’t working.

    • Thank you for your comment Ashley. I think there are a ton of solutions that are really easy, but they reduce the amount of money that private prisons and law enforcement would receive – and hence, they would never be approved. Everything in our society right now can be brought back to one thing: cash.

  3. I agree with you. Drugs should be legalized, regulated and taxed, I feel the same about prostitution. Our legal and prison system is so far gone that it is useless at this point. Nobody is being rehabilitated and the prisons are so corrupt that all they do is create monsters.
    I personally feel that the prison systems should be handed over to the military. Our Government is so quick to send our troops to other countries to improve their way of life and yet we are not using our own resources to help our country. None of it makes any sense.
    And yes it does all come down to money but I do believe that mentality can be broken and replaced with justice; unfortunately it would take the PUBLIC, (us), to make that change happen. The fact remains that not enough good people speak up or speak out. I think it is too overwhelming; that feeling creates fear, hopelessness and loneliness. People don’t believe that they can make a difference and people feel alone.
    So thank you for taking the time to create a place where people can not only realize that they are not alone and maybe they will realize that our voices and actions collectively and alone do make a difference.

    • Thank you Stephanie! I really like your idea of military run prisons. Too bad though so many prisons have been privatized and are just more money making machines. Those corporations that own them don’t want justice – they just want full beds. As citizens we CAN make a difference if we just learn to realize our collective voices and how much power we do have as consumers. As always, thank you for your love and support! 🙂

  4. We need to legalize drugs across the board, no exceptions. If we really have rights over our own bodies, those rights need to actually apply for every subject and situation, not just if one wants to get an abortion.

    One thing to possibly consider is the insane amount of laws and how poorly thought out most of them are. Perhaps “legislation” isn’t the answer to solving people’s problems.

    One thing I’ve noticed over time is that its always the poor who get screwed over by laws and its the lawyers who having huge financial heydays at all of our expense.

    • Armenia, I agree with you that what we do to ourselves is just that to ourselves. When people start crossing the line and hurting others, like robbing someone for drugs or murdering someone in a drunken rage those are the people that need to go to jail. The dude smoking some pot at home? Yeah, hes not hurting anyone and doesn’t deserve to go to prison. You are right too about these law affecting the poor more than anyone else. The jails aren’t fill of guys like Michael Phelps.

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