Pubdate: Sat, 24 Jan 2009
Source: Des Moines Register (IA)
Copyright: 2009 The Des Moines Register.
Author: Robert Sharpe


Regarding the Register's thoughtful Jan. 4 editorial, "Rethink Long,
Mandatory Drug Sentences": When it comes to drugs, mandatory minimum
prison sentences have done little other than give the land of the free
the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The deterrent value of zero tolerance is grossly overrated. During the
crack epidemic of the 1980s, New York City chose the zero-tolerance
approach, opting to arrest and prosecute as many offenders as
possible. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry was smoking
crack, and America's capital had the highest per-capita murder rate in
the country.

Yet crack use declined in both cities simultaneously. The decline was
not due to a slick anti-drug advertising campaign or the passage of
mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Simply put, the younger generation
saw firsthand what crack was doing to their older siblings and decided
for themselves that crack was bad news.

This is not to say nothing can be done about hard drugs such as crack
or methamphetamine, the latest headline grabber. Access to
substance-abuse treatment is critical. Diverting resources away from
prisons and into cost-effective treatment would save both tax dollars
and lives.

Robert Sharpe, policy analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy

Washington, D.C.
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