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?