Pubdate: Thu, 17 Apr 2003
Source: The Dominion Post (WV)
Copyright: 2003 The Dominion Post
Author: Michael Lemery
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


To the Editor:

It's hard to pay taxes when you know your tax monies are being wasted. 
That's why I was among the members of Families Against Mandatory Minimums 
handing out literature to taxpayers mailing their tax forms Wednesday.

Some 55 percent of federal prisoners serve mandatory minimum drug 
sentences, which are determined solely by the weight and type of drug or 
the presence of a firearm during a felony offense. Nearly 88 percent are 
nonviolent offenders, and a majority are drug abusers. Yet five-, 10- and 
20-year sentences are commonplace.

Taxpayers pay dearly: $22,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner. But there 
are better and less expensive ways to deal with the drug problem. 
Sentencing guidelines, which already exist, prevent wildly disparate 
sentences for similar crimes and permit sentence adjustments based on the 
culpability of the offender.

In addition, there's drug treatment. A 2003 study shows that drug-addicted, 
nonviolent felony offenders with five prior drug arrests and an average of 
four years behind bars achieved significantly lower recidivism rates and 
higher employment rates through a drug treatment program than comparable 
offenders who were sent to prison. The cost? Half that of sending an 
offender to prison.

We need to change our laws so that the punishment fits the crime and so we 
address drug abuse and spend our tax monies more cost-effectively.

Michael Lemery, Morgantown
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