Pubdate: Sun, 30 Jan 2005
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2005 News World Communications, Inc.
Author: Stephen Heath


Alan Reynolds' column "Let judges use judgment" (Commentary, Jan. 23)
raises valid concerns about the need for Congress to exercise prudence
as it examines federal sentencing guidelines in the wake of the most
recent Supreme Court rulings. At the same time, Congress should give
careful reconsideration to the overall justification for such
sentences, especially as applied to low-level drug offenders. Why are
we handing out decade(s)-long sentences to people who are caught
selling a few grams or ounces of marijuana, cocaine or ecstasy (MDMA,
or methylenedioxymethamphetamine)? As one example, a 10-year prison
sentence translates into much more than $250,000 in housing, food and
health care that taxpayers are asked to foot to keep these offenders
behind bars.

Drug abuse has its roots in a combination of physical, mental and
spiritual problems. None of these are addressed by taking offenders
and caging them in federal prisons for years -- or in the case of many
mandatory minimum sentences -- decades. Despite the feds having jailed
more than 1 million such offenders during the past 20 years, the
demand for illicit drugs and the illegal trade that feeds it remains a

Stern sentencing is likely worthy for criminals who pose a clear and
demonstrable threat to the public. Simply being in possession of or
selling a short list of politically incorrect substances, however, is
not worthy of such resolutions. It's urgent that Congress bear that in
mind during upcoming discussions of how to rewrite the
mandatory-minimum guidelines.


Clearwater, Fla.
- ---
MAP posted-by: SHeath(DPFFLorida)