Pubdate: Sat, 11 Jun 2005
Source: Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA)
Copyright: 2005 New England Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Joshua G.  Stegeman


To the Editor of THE EAGLE:-

Justice without mercy? The draconian mandatory minimum sentencing 
guidelines are throwbacks from another era. The legislature enacted these 
laws in a knee-jerk reaction to the horrors of the drug epidemic in the 
late '70s and early '80s. They are an anachronism, the product of an 
outdated way of thinking, a weapon in what Ronald Reagan so eloquently 
deemed "The War on Drugs." Now, 20  years later with prisons     bulging at 
the seams from non-violent drug offenders; the laws have proven to be 
ineffective, and unfair, as well as an undue burden on the taxpayer.

It's interesting that the even-minded, intelligent capable men and women of 
our city government could set civil standards in the drafting of an 
ordinance prohibiting the opening of an adult entertainment establishment, 
i.e. strip club, within 200 feet from a playground; yet a 17-year-old kid 
not even old enough to be a patron of such an establishment has to be 
sentenced to a mandatory two years for selling a marijuana joint within a 
thousand feet of the property of a school.

I'm currently serving 15 to 20 years in state prison for a non-violent drug 
offense. I grew up in Berkshire County, and at age 24, as a full-time 
college student, I was arrested and sent to prison. A large portion of my 
minimum mandatory sentence is the result of the school zone statute. In my 
case, the alleged illegal act took place 999.6 feet from the property line 
of the nearest school. That's just six inches inside the thousand feet that 
can trigger the ability of law enforcement to tack on a school zone charge, 
and thereby enhance  any sentence with a mandatory two years.

These laws aren't being used as they were intended. Until the Legislature 
repeals them, they are on the books. The only caveat is the district 
attorney's authority to exercise discretion in applying and prosecuting 
them. It is a much  the duty of the district attorney to zealously protect 
the community from the  ills of criminality as it is his responsibility to 
uphold and preserved the  citizen's rights. With authority comes 
responsibility. To sent young, impressionable, otherwise good kids to a 
prison cell in lieu of other alternatives when they pose no danger to the 
community is irresponsible.

JOSHUA G. STEGEMAN Shirley, June 2, 2005
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