We all know youths who have changed for the better. When I was a lawyer in Cody, the court sometimes appointed me to represent juvenile offenders, and parents who knew of my history often asked for help with their children. I once handled the case of an 18-year-old who stole a car and drove it to Seattle. I later hired him as chief of staff for my Senate office, and he turned out to be one of the most able of the people I put in that job.
I was lucky that the bullets I stole from a hardware store as a teenager and fired from my .22-caliber rifle never struck anyone. I was fortunate that the fires I set never hurt anyone. I heard my wake-up call and listened — and I went on to have many opportunities to serve my country and my community.
When a young person is sent “up the river,” we need to remember that all rivers can change course.
Category Archives: Mandatory Minimum Sentences
The July/August 2009 issue of the Left-leaning Mother Jones dedicates several articles to the asinine War on (some) Drugs.
The title of the magazine’s cover story states it best – “Totally Wasted: We’ve blown $300 billion. Death squads roam Mexico. Cartels operate in 259 cities. This is your War on Drugs. Any Questions?”
Reason’s Nick Gillespie points out that there are many areas that libertarians would disagree with (like I said, MoJo is a Left-leaning publication) but I think it’s good to expose a new audience to the failure that is this nation’s drug policy. From there we can debate the best way to bring the War on (some) Drugs to a conclusion.
While I’m not happy that Mr. Lynch is doing time for legally dispensing marijuana under California’s compassionate use law, he certainly could have received a much harsher sentence (up to 100 years). U.S. District Judge George Wu should be commended for finding an exception to the 5 year mandatory minimum sentence and reducing it to a relatively reasonable sentence of 1 year. That’s probably the best he could do under the circumstances.
There is however, one person who can correct this injustice perpetrated by the Bush Justice Department: President Obama. I urge all those who support the Tenth Amendment to join me in calling on President Obama to pardon Charles Lynch. Federalism is a much larger principle in this case than medical marijuana or even the war on (some) drugs. The State of California (whether one agrees or not with using marijuana for medicinal purposes), passed a law the federal government did not like. This law does not violate the U.S. Constitution and is, therefore, beyond the reach of the federal government according to the Tenth Amendment.*
Furthermore, President Obama and his Attorney General Holder have both said on several occasions that the federal raids on these dispensaries would end provided the operators are not violating both state and federal law. A full pardon of Charles Lynch would go a long way toward reversing a bad policy from the previous administration.
It’s too early to tell if it’s a semantic change or a major step in the right direction, but these comments from President Obama’s “Drug Czar” are encouraging:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.
In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.
“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”
Mr. Kerlikowske’s comments are a signal that the Obama administration is set to follow a more moderate — and likely more controversial — stance on the nation’s drug problems. Prior administrations talked about pushing treatment and reducing demand while continuing to focus primarily on a tough criminal-justice approach.
And the result of that has been that we have more people in prison than any other nation on Earth, with large numbers of them being there for actions that would not be crimes at all but-for the fact that some drugs are illegal.
While Kerlijowske’s statements do need to be backed up with actual changes in drug policy before I’ll take them seriously, at least one advocate of drug legalization is taking this as a good sign:
Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports legalization of medical marijuana, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Mr. Kerlikowske. “The analogy we have is this is like turning around an ocean liner,” he said. “What’s important is the damn thing is beginning to turn.”
Let’s hope so.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) in his recent article calling for a major reform of America’s prisons in Parade Magazine brought some very disturbing, eye opening, statistics about America’s prison system to light. In summary this is some of what he found:
-Since 1984, America’s prison population has quadrupled from 580,000 to 2.3 million
-Though the U.S. accounts for 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25% of the world’s reported prisoners
-Local, state, and federal spending on corrections costs the U.S. taxpayer about $68 billion annually* (California spent nearly $10 million on corrections last year by itself!)
-16% (350,000) adults in prison or jail are mentally ill
-3/4 of drug offenders in state prisons are non-violent offenders or in prison solely for drug offenses
-47.5% of all drug arrests in the U.S. were fore marijuana offenses
-Despite insignificant statistical differences regarding drug use among races, Blacks (accounting for 12% of the U.S. population) account for 37% of all drug arrests, 59% of which are convicted and account for 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison
Perhaps for the “tough on crime” types, this is all good news but for anyone else who thinks critically of these statistics, I would expect that most would be concerned if not horrified. In response to these statistics, Sen. Webb makes the following observation:
“With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different–and vastly counterproductive.”
For regular consumers of the evening news, it may seem that the first possibility could be true. Without fail, the evening news reports stories of violence, vandalism, kidnapping, rape, child molestation, and murder both locally and nationally. There is also no shortage of true crime programs** detailing the most heinous crimes one could imagine being committed against other human beings; it’s all very disturbing. Our jails and prisons surely must be overflowing from these creeps!
One would think that roving bands of murderous thugs are on every street in America, yet we each almost always make it to and from work, to and from running errands and eating out unmolested. Our odds of being killed in an auto accident*** are many times greater than being victim to this roving band of murderous thugs. How can this be? In most auto accidents, the victim may try to find an accident attorney to seek legal advice or take legal action.
While we should each be vigilant and aware of our surroundings and always use common sense, the perception that our prisoners are overflowing with mostly violent criminals just isn’t true. Figure 1 shows the U.S. prison population under the purview of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The BOP population accounts for 202,493 of America’s 2.3 million prisoners.
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