Tracknum: 23376.000701c2c876.715b4c20.d251be3f
Pubdate: Thu, 30 Jan 2003
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2003 Associated Press
Author: Associated Press
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Convicted of cocaine possession, James DiVietri has 
spent the past 11 years in prison and expected to spend nearly 10 more 
years behind bars.

But he becomes eligible for parole March 1, along with about 1,250 other 
first-time, nonviolent drug offenders. As many as 700 of them could be home 
by September, state prison officials say.

A bill signed on Christmas Day by outgoing Gov. John Engler repealed 
Michigan's tough but widely criticized drug-sentencing law.

The legislation requires judges to follow state sentencing guidelines when 
sending drug criminals to prison but gives them more discretion by 
eliminating minimum sentences.

Under the old law, for example, someone possessing 50 to 224 grams of 
narcotics or cocaine in Michigan had to be sentenced to at least 10 years 
and up to 20 years in prison. The new law eliminates the 10-year minimum, 
allowing the judge to sentence an offender for any time up to 20 years.

The original 1973 law, which made possession of 650 or more grams of 
illegal drugs punishable by mandatory life imprisonment, was aimed at drug 
kingpins. Instead, it swelled the prison population and parole officers' 
caseloads with lower-level, less dangerous offenders, critics said.

"I spent 4 years prosecuting major narcotics cases before becoming a 
judge," Timothy Kenny, co-chief judge of Wayne County Circuit Court, told 
The Detroit News for a Thursday story.

"The reality was, however, that the people that were getting the 20-30 
(years in prison) and mandatory life sentences were not drug kingpins. We 
were locking up for a lifetime individuals with drugs who were only 
peripherally involved."

DiVietri, now 53, was managing one of his family's restaurants in Lansing 
when he was arrested in a drug deal. He pleaded guilty in 1991 to 
possessing 225 to 649 grams of cocaine and was sentenced to 20-30 years in 

"I have no one else to blame but myself. I brought it on myself," DiVietri 
told The News.

But, he said: "The first two years (in prison), I thought somehow this was 
not real and I would somehow get out. The last nine years, I couldn't allow 
myself to think about freedom. Now for the first time, I can actually let go."

By releasing the 1,250 nonviolent, first-time drug inmates -- each of whom 
costs $28,000 a year to house and feed -- the state will save $35 million 
annually and ease crowding in a prison system almost at its 50,000-bed 

Starting in 1982, persons released from prison after serving their 
sentences under the drug law were placed on parole for life. On March 1, 
parole for 3,218 offenders who have served at least five years will be 
terminated. That will save Michigan taxpayers another $6 million a year, 
based on the $1,900 annual cost of supervising each parolee.

"That means some people were supervised by probation officers for over 20 
years. Now that time and effort to maintain files on those people can end 
and probation officers can concentrate on watching more dangerous people," 
Kenny said.

Corrections officials are examining the files of 7,600 inmates serving drug 
sentences to see how many others qualify for release.