Pubdate: Sun, 22 May 2005
Source: Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA)
Copyright: 2005 New England Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Christine Ward
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


To the Editor of THE EAGLE:- There is nothing "even-handed" or "fair" about 
mandatory sentencing. Seeking mandatory two-year jail sentences and 
life-long criminal records for first-time offenders denies those prosecuted 
their right to judicial procedure. Anyone punished so severely deserves to 
have their case considered individually. In his press release, District 
Attorney Capeless works at vilifying a group of young people who showed bad 
judgment. He wants us to believe that they should be grouped with "dealers" 
of heroin, LSD and cocaine. Yet, surely he is familiar with the White House 
study that asserts "In general, marijuana sellers continue to be young 
users who sell to a network of friends and associates. Marijuana sellers 
usually do not deal heroin or cocaine." Kids selling to each other should 
receive consequences that serve as a wake-up call and change their 
behavior. But unfair sentencing has the potential for being hugely 
destructive to the young people and families involved. If the actions of 
the youth involved are as abhorrent as Mr. Capeless would have us believe, 
surely these kids will receive appropriate consequences as determined by a 
judge on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, where is the statistical data 
supporting the effectiveness of the mandatory school zone sentencing law? A 
Boston University Study on the school zone law states: "It appears from the 
study findings that the school zone statute (a) does not make the areas 
around schools particularly safe for children; (b) cannot reasonably be 
expected to do so; and (c) perhaps as a result, is not used by prosecutors 
in a way calculated to move dealing away from schools. Instead the law 
operates generally to raise the penalty level for drug dealing and does so 
in ways that are unpredictable for defendants." In other words, the law has 
proven ineffective and is not being used as it was originally intended.

Some would say that because others have had to go to jail in similar 
circumstances, these kids should too. But past suffering does not mean we 
cannot choose to change our course. As we educate ourselves to the 
unfairness, ineffectiveness and destructiveness of mandatory sentencing, we 
must work for legislative changes. Several local and state politicians 
assert the need for such changes. But are we willing to sacrifice the kids 
caught in the middle while changes are being sought?

I applaud the DA's feelings of responsibility for protecting our young 
people. But I believe that this protection includes promoting positive 
changes through fair sentencing, in the hope that kids on the wrong path 
will be guided towards positive changes.

The course of mandatory sentencing, that Mr. Capeless is committed to, 
promotes injustice.

Fairness demands that consequences be in proportion to misdeeds and that 
sentencing be decided on a case-by-case basis. Mandatory sentencing is 
flawed and yet our current DA perseveres in applying it indiscriminately. 
Is this something our community should be willing to support?

Christine Ward, Great Barrington, May 13, 05
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