Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jun 2004
Source: Fort Pierce Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2004 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


The overcrowding conditions being experienced at the St. Lucie County
Jail are a symptom of a broad national problem that grows worse each
year and which cannot be sustained if the trend continues.

In a speech last year to the American Bar Association, U.S. Supreme
Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said, "Our resources are misspent,
our punishments too severe, our sentences too long." A conservative
appointed to the high court by President Reagan, he called on the ABA
to study "the inadequacies -- and the injustices -- in our prison and
correctional systems."

The ABA issued a report on that study this week that said many get-
tough on crime policies don't work and that mandatory minimum
sentences should be repealed. It also called for more funding for
substance abuse and mental health programs, assistance for prisoners
re-entering society and task forces to study racial and ethnic
disparities in the criminal justice system.

The Associated Press quoted ABA President Dennis Archer saying, "For
more than 20 years we have gotten tougher on crime. Now we need to get

According to Justice Department figures, the number of inmates in
state and federal prisons increased six-fold between 1974 and 2002,
reaching 476 out of every 100,000 Americans, compared to about 100 per
100,000 in countries such as England, France and Germany. In 1982, the
states and federal governments spent $9 billion on jails and prisons.
In 1999, $49 billion was spent.

Kennedy noted that far more is being spent on housing prisoners than
on teaching children.

"Society ought to ask itself how it's allocating its resources," he said.

Kennedy also noted racial disparities within the prison system. He
said about 40 percent of the prison population is black and the ABA
study said that, if patterns continue, a black male born in 2001 will
have a one in three change of being imprisoned sometime in his life.

As the ABA's Archer said, "The system is broken. We need to fix it."

Law enforcement and the courts cannot resolve the problems. They are
only following the laws that are given to them. While it may be
politically popular for politicians to proclaim their get-tough
stances, the results of tough laws are not serving the best interests
of taxpayers and society as a whole, according to the ABA report.

Simply continuing to fill jails and building more cells is not the answer.
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