Let’s Get Tough: The War On Drugs
The United States has historically been one of the most punitive countries when it comes to prison sentences for non-violent, drug crimes. This originally came about in the early 1980’s and 1990’s with our country’s “get tough” war on drugs. You may recall Ronald Reagan’s famous press conference from the White House in 1986 where he and his wife declared their “war on drugs.”
Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Without getting extremely bogged down in the details, (among other things) what happened was that “mandatory minimum” sentences for federal drug crimes were instituted. Essentially this took away a judge’s ability to sentence a person according to how they feel a person should be sentenced based on their crime, the circumstances of their case, criminal history, use of a weapon (or not), etc. It took away their discretion in many ways. If you are convicted of a drug crime in federal court then you are going to do at least a certain number of years in prison, no matter the circumstances. Mandatory minimums . . . .
So what does this mean? You guessed it. Our prison population is extremely overcrowded with non-violent, many times first time offenders, who have committed drug related crimes. The crimes may have been tiny among the scheme of things. I could go on and on about this because I see it every day in my job. But I won’t here.
The New Legislation
That brings us to now. About a year ago a Sentencing Commission went to work on trying to change this and get legislation passed that would allow people convicted under these outdated sentencing laws to apply to have their sentences shortened. IT WORKED. And now that is what is going to happen for what they are estimating to be 6,000 prisoners in the next couple of weeks. With more to follow.
This does only apply to federal prisoners. And not all of the people released are just going to get to go free. Many will go to half way houses, serve probation, etc. Others will be sent directly to immigration detention centers for deportation back to their own countries.
If you ask me though, this is a HUGE step in the right direction.
If you would like to read about this in more detail click on this article: Justice Department Set To Free 6,000 Prisoners, Largest One-Time Release.
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Stryder J. Wegener is the author of this article, the co-founder of Emerald City Law Group, and a damn good criminal defense attorney.