Pubdate: Sun, 06 Feb 2005
Source: Monitor, The (McAllen, TX)
Copyright: 2005 The Monitor
Author: Stephen Heath


To the editor:

Your editorial ("Sentencing Guidelines: Supreme Court restores some
judicial discretion" Jan 18) raises valid concerns about the need for
Congress to exercise prudence as they examine federal sentencing
guidelines in the wake of the most recent Supreme Court rulings.

At the same time, Congress should give careful reconsideration to the
overall justification for such sentences, especially as applied to
low-level drug offenders.

Drug abuse has its roots in a combination of physical, mental and
spiritual problems. None of these are addressed by taking the offender
and caging them in a federal prison for years or - in the case of many
mandatory minimum sentences - decades. And despite the feds having
jailed over 1 million such offenders over the past 20 years, the
demand for illicit drugs and the illegal trade that feeds it remain a
steady constant.

Stern sentencing is likely worthy for those criminals who pose a clear
and demonstrable threat to the public. Simply being in possession of
or selling a short list of politically incorrect substances, however,
is not worthy of such resolutions. It's urgent that Congress bear that
in mind during upcoming discussions of how to rewrite the mandatory
minimum guidelines.

Stephen Heath

Public Relations Director, Drug Policy Forum of Florida

Clearwater, Fla.
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