Pubdate: Mon, 01 Nov 1999
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 1999 Richmond Newspapers Inc.
Address: P.O. Box 85333, Richmond, VA 23293 (LTEs by FAX or mail only!)
Fax: (804) 775-8072
Author: Lennice Werth


Editor, Times-Dispatch: 

The Governor's plan to deal with drugs is very much like what the federal
program has been since the '80s. Yet Virginia's chief executive says
President Clinton has failed even though his administration has arrested
more people than ever before. How will Jim Gilmore succeed with the same
philosophy of trying to arrest and jail our way out of the drug problem? 

Mandatory sentencing laws have a history of passage during frenzied
election-year campaigns. They were passed by Congress in the critical
election years of 1984, 1986, and 1988. In the '50s the Boggs Act
instituted mandatory sentences for drugs. That law was repealed within 20
years. The fact that it didn't stop drugs, but filled prisons with
non-violent defendants, seems lost on Gilmore. 

Slick drug dealers get much lighter sentencing by using those under them as
bargaining chips. Friends, neighbors, and family members who should have
known are fair game for conspiracy charges that carry the same penalty as
actually committing the crime. Supreme Court Chief Justice William
Rehnquist has called mandatory minimum sentencing the "law of unintended
consequences." Not having reduced the flow of drugs or succeeded in locking
away major or even mid-level dealers, they have filled prisons. 

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons publication "Quick Facts," the
average drug convict is serving an 82.2-month sentence while a manslaughter
con is getting 26.8 months. Do we here in the Old Dominion want to repeat
the mistakes made in the recent past by other states and the federal
government even as they try to correct them? Should marijuana growers spend
more time in prison than those guilty of murder, armed robbery, or rape, as
Gilmore is proposing? 

Lennice Werth
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