Pubdate: Sun, 28 Feb 1999
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 1999 The New York Times Company
Author: Timothy Egan
Note: First Of Two Articles 


VICTORVILLE, Calif. - Every 20 seconds, someone in the United States
is arrested for a drug violation. Every week, on average, a new jail
or prison is built to lock up more people in the world's largest penal

It was not always so. Ten years ago, half as many people were arrested
for drug crimes, and the nation's incarceration rate was closer to
those of other democracies. But in the 1980s crack cocaine scared the
country, and the criminal justice system has never been the same.

Crack poisoned many communities. Dealers turned neighborhoods into
drug markets. As heavily armed gangs fought over turf, murder rates
shot up. Authorities warned that crack was instantly addictive and
spreading rapidly, and predicted that a generation of crack babies
would bear the drug's imprint. It looked like a nightmare with no end.

But for all the havoc wreaked by crack, the worst fears were not
realized. Crack appealed mainly to hard-core drug users. The number of
crack users began falling not long after surveys began counting them.
A decade later, the violence of the crack trade has burned out, and
murder rates have plunged.

Yet crack left its mark, in ways that few people anticipated. Crack
prompted the nation to rewrite its drug laws, lock up a record number
of people and shift money from schools to prisons. It transformed
police work, hospitals, parental rights, courts.

Crack also changed the racial makeup of U.S. prisons. More whites than
blacks use crack, according to surveys, but as the war on drugs
focused on poor city neighborhoods, blacks went to prison at a far
higher rate. In California, five black men are behind bars for each
one in a state university.

But the harsh laws responding to crack have not reduced overall drug
use. And now the ceaseless march of new drug offenders and the
mounting costs of prisons are moving some of the people charged with
enforcing the punitive laws to question the assumptions behind them.

"We have a failed social policy and it has to be re-evaluated," said
Barry McCaffrey, the four-star general who heads the National Drug
Control Policy Office. "Otherwise, we're going to bankrupt ourselves.
Because we can't incarcerate our way out of this problem."

* Estimated
Source: National Association of State Budget Officers

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More than a quarter-million Americans in prison for drug offenses
could be better dealt with in treatment programs, he said, saving up
to $5 billion a year.

Since 1985 the nation's jail and prison population has grown 130
percent, and it will soon pass 2 million, even as crime rates continue
a six-year decline. No country has more people behind bars, and only
one, Russia, has a higher incarceration rate, according to the
Sentencing Project, which tracks prison rates.

Behind the increase is a national get-tough mood that has produced
longer sentences for all criminals and the end of parole in many
states. Polls show that most Americans favor lengthy terms for violent

But perhaps the biggest single factor is the systematic jailing of
drug offenders. In the first 10 years after Congress toughened drug
laws in response to crack, the number of people imprisoned for drugs
grew more than 400 percent, nearly twice the growth rate for violent
criminals. More people are behind bars for drug offenses in the United
States -- about 400,000 -- than are in prison for all crimes in
England, France, Germany and Japan combined.

Crack's legacy can be seen in nearly every corner of the land, even in
the Mojave Desert, where the newest federal prison is rising at the
dusty edge of Victorville. In an age of government downsizing, the
federal corrections budget has grown more than tenfold in a decade, to
nearly $4 billion, yet prisons are so stuffed with drug offenders that
this one will be at capacity almost from the day it opens.

Some experts argue what might seem obvious: that high incarceration
rates deserve the credit for falling crime rates.

"Putting people in prison has been the single most important thing
we've done to reduce crime," Dr. James Q. Wilson, the political
scientist whose ideas have influenced police departments for a
generation, has written.

In New York, the police and prosecutors say locking up thousands of
drug offenders was a major factor in the city's turning the corner on
crime. "What plays havoc with a neighborhood are the low-level
dealers," said Bridget Brennan, the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for
New York. "When they take over a street or a stoop, everyone else is
terrified. When you put those people in jail, it gives the community a
sense that order has been restored."

What the prison boom has not done, however, is reduce illicit drug
use, national surveys show. Far fewer Americans use illegal drugs now
than in the peak years of the 1970s. But almost all of the drop
occurred before crack cocaine or the laws passed in response to it.

The most recent National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, for 1997,
estimated that about 14 million people had used an illegal drug in the
last month, a number barely changed since 1988. Of those, 600,000 had
smoked crack within a month, unchanged since 1988. But during that
time, imprisonment rates soared.

"What's happened across the board is that police started going after
small-time street dealers and users," said Dr. Steven Belenko, a
criminologist at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
at Columbia University.

Crack never became a mainstream drug, but the fear of it changed
perception and laws for virtually all illicit drugs, according to
Belenko and others who have studied the war on drugs.

"Crack probably had more impact on the entire criminal justice system
than it had on the communities and the drug users," said Dr. Franklin
Zimring, director of the Earl Warren Legal Institute at the University
of California School of Law. "This secondary impact, on police and
prisons, may end up being more negative than anything associated with
the drug."

Among governors, teachers, criminologists and police chiefs, there is
vigorous debate over how the drug laws enacted at the height of the
crack panic have transformed the nation. But in Congress, which
enacted the laws without a single hearing, there is nothing. For crack
has left one other major legacy: The policy discussion in Washington
on prisons and drugs has been frozen for more than a decade.

The Evidence: As Crime Rate Falls, More Prisons Are Built

The little towns tucked into the folds of the Appalachian Mountains in
Schuylkill County, Pa., are a world removed from the city streets
where crack cocaine was a media obsession in the mid-1980s. But the
legacy of crack is all around.

A first-year teacher there can expect to make $18,500 a year, the
state-mandated minimum. A prison-guard trainee is paid $22,300. The
job of watching over the drug offenders and others who are filling
three new state prisons in the region is coveted.

Pennsylvania might not seem the kind of place where prisons and jails
would be booming. The state has an aging population. Crime has never
been a particularly big problem; among the states, Pennsylvania has
ranked near the bottom. But every year for the last 14 years,
Pennsylvania has added at least one prison, and the corrections budget
has soared to more than $1 billion a year, a fivefold increase over a

In 1988, not long before President George Bush spoke to the nation
about the war on drugs while holding up a bag of crack, Pennsylvania
radically changed its drug laws, establishing mandatory minimum
sentences for people caught with illicit drugs. No time off for
first-time offenders. No community service. No treatment for addicts.

Pennsylvania was following the lead of Congress, which had set the
nation on a course of strict incarceration for drug users with laws
enacted in 1986 and 1988. Ten years later, its inmate population had
grown 225 percent, to 35,600. Pennsylvania spends an average of
$20,000 a year for each one, about the national average.

Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, has no plans to change the incarceration
policy. "Every public expenditure comes with a choice," said his
spokesman, Tim Reeves. "We defend the choices we've made."

The crime rate might not be so low if the state had not locked up so
many drug offenders, Reeves said. "What would the rate be if those
guys were not in jail?" he said. "Think about the cost to the
community, the wasted lives and violent crime."

But in building a penal system in which three of every 10 new
prisoners are serving time for drugs, according to the Pennsylvania
Sentencing Commission, which tracks prison rates for the state,
Pennsylvania, like most states, has not reduced illegal drug use.

"I don't think anybody believes it has turned out to be an effective
policy," said David Sweet, a Harrisburg lawyer who headed a special
commission that examined the state's prison growth. "It appeared to us
that we were using a very expensive way to provide secure housing for
people who probably don't belong in prison."

Dr. Julia Glover Hall, a criminologist at Drexel University and
president of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, which Benjamin Franklin
established to monitor prisons and jails, said: "It's a stupid game
we're playing. We're locking up all these nonviolent offenders,
pouring money down a rat hole."

She added: "I've been a crime victim. I'm not soft on criminals. But
we have to look at the bottom line of what we're doing. There was this
powerful scare in the crack years, and all across the country we
passed these Draconian laws. Now we're starting to see how much it has
cost the rest of us."

Pennsylvania is typical of what has happened across the country.
California is spending nearly $4 billion a year to operate the
nation's largest prison system. As the state added 21 prisons since
1984 -- and only one university campus -- violent criminals fell to 42
percent of the prison population in 1997, from 57 percent, while drug
inmates grew to 27 percent, from 8 percent.

Political leaders have debated whether the building boom was at the
expense of their budget's other big discretionary item, higher
education. Many politicians said the state would try to fully finance
both. But the numbers tell another story.

Spending on prisons has grown 60 percent over a decade, and pay for
prison guards has more than doubled. For higher education, there was
virtually no growth, and salaries in the state university system
stagnated, falling behind other states. A prison guard now makes about
$51,000 a year, while a first-year professor in California's
once-vaunted university system is paid $41,000.

As the prison budget swelled, California raised tuition to make up the
university financing gap. Over the last 10 years, as the state's
population grew by 5 million people, state university enrollment fell
by 20,000.

The shift in priorities, documented in a number of studies, has become
a major issue since a new governor, Gray Davis, and a new Legislature
took office.

"Most of our buildings are literally falling apart and we've lost
1,500 full-time faculty members," said Jeri Bledsoe, general manager
of the California Faculty Association. "You bet there's been a price
to pay for our prison boom."

The Convicted: $40 Worth of Cocaine Brings a Life Sentence

The biggest legacy of crack is out of sight, behind the concrete and
steel of prisons. Addicts, couriers, girlfriends of dealers, people
tempted by the lure of a quick buck, mostly poor blacks -- these are
the dominant profiles of the people jailed since prisons started
filling with drug criminals.

Inside the maximum-security unit at the state prison for women in
Topeka, Kan., Gloria Van Winkle is in the sixth year of a life term
for possessing $40 worth of cocaine. A mother of two and a drug
addict, she had two convictions for cocaine possession when a
convicted thief told undercover agents she was smoking crack and they
set up a sting.

Kansas has all but forgotten about Ms. Van Winkle. Asked about her
case, the state Sentencing Commission said no one was doing life for
drug possession. "Only murderers get life sentences in Kansas," said
its executive director, Barbara Tombs.

On further review, Ms. Tombs found that, yes, for a brief period in
the early '90s, a person convicted of three drug offenses could get
life. That law was changed. Ms. Van Winkle's sentence was not.

"I can't laugh anymore, I can't cry -- it's just a slow rage that
makes me numb," Ms. Van Winkle said. Her sentence offers an eventual
chance of parole, but for now, she lives for visits from her children,
ages 10 and 6, and wonders what they will grow up to be like with her
behind bars.

Her concern is shared by many others: Three-fourths of the 54,000
women jailed for drug crimes have children.

The police and prosecutors said Ms. Van Winkle should have been aware
of the possibility of a life sentence. They said she was chosen
because they thought she might lead them to dealers, but no follow-up
arrests were made.

Ms. Van Winkle's case is rare but not unique. Because of three-strikes
laws and other changes made in the last decade, people in several
other states are serving life sentences for drug possession. More
typical among women convicted of drug offenses are 5- and 10-year
mandatory terms.

Tonya Drake, a mother of four, had no criminal record or history of
drug use when she was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for
mailing a package that contained crack cocaine. She says a friend paid
her $44 to mail the package, which she did not know contained drugs.

Ms. Drake admits what she did was wrong. "But the time does not fit
the crime," she said in a prison interview. "You lock me up for 10
years. While I'm here, my father dies, my children grow up, it cost
thousands of dollars to keep me behind bars."

The children are having considerable trouble growing up with their
mother in prison, said Ms. Drake's sister, Williet Mitchell. "Tonya
was taken away from the kids at a time when everybody needed her," Ms.
Mitchell said. "Now the kids are screwed up. They're angry and bitter
that she was forced to leave them."

When the children see their mother in the prison visiting room, Ms.
Drake tries to explain what brought her there. "I tell my kids I did
something wrong, that it was a mistake," she said. "But it was my
first and only mistake."

In Kentucky, Louie Cordell, a 55-year-old father of nine with no prior
convictions, is finishing a mandatory five-year federal sentence for
growing 141 marijuana plants.

Cordell was sent to prison under the 1986 law that set mandatory five-
and 10-year sentences for the possession or sale of small amounts of
crack. For marijuana, the law set a mandatory sentence of five years
for possession of 100 plants, whether they were seedlings or 6 feet
tall. That provision has since been changed to go by weight.

The law punished Cordell, but it hit his family just as hard. He
worked seasonally at a sawmill in a poor county in southeastern
Kentucky and was growing the marijuana to help make ends meet, said
his wife, Shirley.

Since Cordell went to prison, a son gave up plans to attend college on
a scholarship, in order to help support the family, and the Cordells
have been on and off welfare.

"There's no way to describe what's happened to us except to say that
it's been bad in all ways," Mrs. Cordell said. "Louie was here
providing for us and then they took him away. I expected him to get
some time for what he did, but not five years."

Marijuana was never mentioned in the floor speeches in Congress when
the drug laws were rewritten in 1986, but the new penalties for crack
were accompanied by harsher sentences for most drugs. Ten years later,
more people were sentenced under the federal system for marijuana than
for any other drug.

Supporters of harsh penalties argue that locking up the Louie Cordells
of the world has a deterrent effect and say convictions reduce other
crimes associated with drug use.

Marijuana arrests set a record in 1997 -- 695,200, nearly 90 percent
of which were for simple possession. And marijuana remains, by far,
the most popular illegal drug: 18 million Americans used marijuana at
least once in 1997, according to the National Household Survey. And
some 71 million, 33 percent of those over age 12, have used marijuana
at some time.

Asked about deterrence, the federal prosecutor in Cordell's case,
David Marye, said marijuana cultivation does not seem to have
diminished in rural Kentucky.

"I've been prosecuting cases, state and federal, for 21 years, and we
have so many people who keep doing what Louie Cordell was doing that
it makes you wonder if we'll ever stop them," he said.

The Cities: Racial Implications of the Crack Laws

One of every 20 Americans born this year will serve time in prison,
according to a Justice Department study. For blacks, the projection is
one in four. By 1996, 8.3 percent of black men age 25 to 29 were
inmates, compared with 0.8 percent of white men that age.

The odds of going to prison used to be more even. But the criminal
justice system's special treatment of crack cocaine dramatically threw
off the balance, according to reports by the Sentencing Commission and
the Justice Department.

For people convicted of a crack offense, the world of justice is
unlike any other. Crack is simply cocaine processed so that it can be
smoked. But federal law equates 5 grams of crack with 500 grams of
powder cocaine, a 1-to-100 ratio that no other country recognizes.
Possessing 5 grams of crack is a felony with an automatic five-year
prison term, while 5 grams of the same drug in powder form is a
misdemeanor likely to carry no jail time.

One consequence of the disparity is that kingpins at the top of a drug
network who sell pounds of powder cocaine for processing often serve
less time than street-level dealers who sell grams of crack.

"One of the great victims of the drug war is that our sense of penal
proportion has been thrown out," said Zimring, of the University of
California School of Law. "Now we have a fairness problem."

In addition, a law aimed at one type of drug use has been applied most
often against one type of user -- urban blacks.

A higher percentage of blacks use crack cocaine than whites or
Hispanic people. But in absolute numbers, twice as many whites as
blacks use crack, and three times as many whites as blacks use powder
cocaine, the national household survey shows.

As the war on drugs set up special penalties on crack, however, law
enforcement focused on the highly visible, often violent crack trade
in city neighborhoods, rather than the larger traffic in cocaine going
on behind closed doors across the country. The result: Nearly 90
percent of the people locked up for crack under federal drug laws are
black, McCaffrey said.

In state prisons, blacks make up nearly 60 percent of the people
serving time on drug offenses, according to Justice Department
figures, though they are only 12 percent of the general population and
15 percent of regular drug users.

"I don't think we got into this fix because of racism," McCaffrey
said. "The impact of crack on the African-American community was
devastating. And that's where enforcement has been

The racial disparity would disappear if the law treated the powder and
crack forms of cocaine equally, said Dr. Douglas McDonald, a senior
scientist at Abt Associates, a social policy research group in
Cambridge, Mass., who testified before Congress. If enforcement were
evenly applied, more whites than blacks would go to prison, he said.

So for many blacks the legacy of crack is not just the violence and
high prison rates that have hit so many communities, but a heightened
sense that the law does not treat them fairly.

"You have so many people who feel hopeless, who feel that it is
extremely unfair that so many low-level offenders are going to jail
for such a long time," said Mattie Compton, a black community leader
in Fort Worth, Texas, who is deputy chief assistant U.S. attorney for
the civil division.

"We know we're going to lose people in poor neighborhoods, but when
you see people who are prospects for future leaders going away to jail
for so long, you wonder if we really are a community under siege," Ms.
Compton said.

Asked about the legacy of crack in the Roxbury district of Boston,
where he works with drug addicts at a community health center, Seward
Hunter said: "If you're African-American, you expect to be targeted by
the police and you expect to be stopped and searched."

Many in Congress say there is no racial intent behind the disparity
between crack and powder. Crack is punished more severely because of
the harm it does and because of the violent crimes associated with

"No one should forget that crack traffickers deal in death, and that
they do so to the most vulnerable among us, the residents of our inner
cities," said Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., chairman of the House
Subcommittee on Crime.

The Change: Crack Makes News; Congress Responds

How Congress came to write a law that allows a person caught with 400
grams of powder cocaine, worth some $40,000, to do less than a year in
jail, while a person holding the same amount of cocaine in crack form
will spend 10 years in prison, is a mystery to people who have tried
to research the statutory intent.

One lawyer who was instrumental in rewriting the drug laws in 1986 and
1988 says it came about through whim and attempts by politicians to
one-up each other as crack seized headlines just before elections.

"There was a level of hysteria that led to a total breakdown of the
legislative process," said the lawyer, Eric Sterling, who as a lead
lawyer on the House Judiciary Committee wrote the laws that
established long mandatory terms for several drugs. Since leaving the
Judiciary Committee in 1989, Sterling has worked to overturn the laws
as president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington.

In the summer of 1986, crack was just starting to be labeled as an
epidemic when a college basketball star, Len Bias, died of a drug
overdose, reportedly crack cocaine. Speaker Tip O'Neill, whose
hometown team, the Boston Celtics, had drafted Bias, ordered an
overhaul of federal drug laws. The death of Bias was invoked in
Congress 11 times.

The law, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, passed the House with only
16 dissenting votes. Despite complaints by some senators that no one
had studied the bill, it sailed through the Senate and President
Ronald Reagan signed it before Election Day.

A year later, court testimony revealed that Bias had died of an
overdose of powder cocaine, not crack. But by then crack had its
special status in state and federal law.

Crack was singled out for good reason, according to Edwin Meese, the
attorney general in the mid-1980s and now the Ronald Reagan
Distinguished Fellow of Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, a
conservative research organization in Washington.

"Crack cocaine was the scourge of the inner city," he said. "The
reason laws were changed was to protect the inner city."

In 1988, Congress passed another overhaul of drug laws just before the
election, singling out crack as the only drug to carry a mandatory
five-year prison term for possession.

That year, a Gallup poll found that 62 percent of Americans surveyed
agreed that to curb drug use they "would be willing to give up some

Crack was on the cover of news magazines, dominated television and
newspaper coverage, and was labeled "America's drug of choice," by
NBC. The New York Times reported that crack was spreading to the
suburbs. William Bennett, the drug czar for 18 months under President
Bush, said it might soon invade every home in America. Crack was
compared to the bubonic plague and called "the most addictive drug
known to man" in Newsweek.

Today, few of the revisionist experts on drug laws dispute crack's
link to violence and gangs. "It was a nightmare," McCaffrey said. "It
was World War III."

But crack was never America's drug of choice -- it did not come close.
At the height of concern in the late 1980s, the National Household
Survey on Drugs estimated that less than one-half of 1 percent of the
population over age 12 used crack once a month, while 10 percent used
marijuana. And three out of four high school seniors who tried crack
did not continue to use it, according to a national survey of students
by the University of Michigan.

Both surveys have flaws, underestimating inner-city users and high
school dropouts. But even after the findings for high use in certain
urban areas are adjusted, crack was never the epidemic it was held up
to be.

The media attention was so hyperbolic that the Drug Enforcement
Administration was compelled to correct the record. "Crack is
currently the subject of considerable media attention," the agency
said in 1986. "The result has been a distortion of the public
perception of the extent of crack use as compared to the use of other

Although crack was labeled the world's most addictive drug, 10 years
of national surveys have shown that most people who try crack do not
continue to use it.

Because of its intense but short-lived effect, crack does tend to make
its users "psychologically dependent," reported a Justice Department
study. But numerous studies have shown that crack, like the powder
form of cocaine, may be less physically addictive than alcohol or tobacco.

The Pyramid: Lower-Level Dealers Feel the Sting of Laws

Political leaders said harsh sentencing laws were intended to deter
use of the most dangerous drugs, with crack at the top of the list.
Failing that, they said, the laws would at least go after drug
kingpins. But statistics show a different pattern among people
sentenced to prison for drugs since 1986.

Of the people jailed by the federal government for crack offenses,
only 5 percent were considered high-level dealers, according to a
study by the Sentencing Commission.

"The current policy focuses law-enforcement efforts on the lowest
level of the distribution line, the street-level dealer," the
commission's vice chairman, Michael Gelacak, wrote. "Unless we ignore
all evidence to the contrary, the current policy has little or no
impact upon the drug abuse problem. The jails are full."

Supporters of the crack laws say the numbers are explained by the
pyramid structure of drug operations; by nature they have few people
at the top, lots of people at the bottom.

But those at the top are often dealing powder cocaine, with its vastly
different penalties. And they are in a position to become informers,
the only real hope of beating a mandatory prison term.

Had Tonya Drake, the woman serving 10 years for mailing a package,
been able to supply what the law labels "substantial assistance" --
information on a high-level dealer -- she might have reduced her
sentence. The 1980s drug laws leave discretion in the hands of
prosecutors to encourage people to "snitch."

Ms. Drake identified the man who gave her the package, but he was
never found. The prosecutor decided her assistance was not
substantial. The fixed sentences have infuriated judges, who say they
feel their role has been reduced to that of rubber stamps for
prosecutors, while their courts are clogged with low-to medium-level
drug offenders.

"When you're dealing with first-time offenders, you should have some
discretion," said Lawrence Irving, a former federal judge from San
Diego. "I had cases where I was forced to give more jail time for
low-level offenders than for the kingpins. It made no sense."

In a 1994 case in Chicago, Marvin Aspen, a U.S. District Court judge,
labeled his sentencings "a farce" as he sent the lowest and "least
culpable" member of a big crack operation to prison for longer than a
supplier at the top.

Monica Boguille, the 20-year-old mother of a baby girl, was sentenced
to 10 years for occasionally counting money for her boyfriend, a crack
dealer. L.C. Godfrey, one of the ring's wholesale suppliers of
cocaine, who was deemed helpful to prosecutors, received nine years.

Justice Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court said recently that
federal judges should regain some of the discretion they once had.
Five years ago, Chief Justice William Rehnquist made similar points in
condemning the mandatory minimum sentences established by Congress.

Dozens of federal judges, most of them former prosecutors, have taken
a strong stand against mandatory minimum drug sentences. For these
judges, the most significant legacy of crack is a legal system that
has left them as little more than spectators in their own courtrooms.

The Aftermath: The Penalties Outlive Fear of an Epidemic

McCaffrey says he came to the drug debate with an open mind but has
become convinced that current policies, with the primary emphasis on
imprisonment, are failing. "The current system is bad drug policy and
bad law enforcement," he said.

On cost alone, arresting, prosecuting and locking up all drug
criminals at the price of about $35 billion a year is not effective,
he said. He now favors long sentences for dealers and treatment for
low-level users.

A recent study by Rand Corp. concluded that mandatory jail terms are
the least cost-effective way of reducing cocaine consumption. For
violent crimes, long sentences keep criminals off the street, it
reported, but for drug crimes, "a jailed supplier is often replaced by
another supplier."

Drug treatment also has a low success rate; among regular users of
cocaine who undergo treatment, only one in eight stops. But even that
would achieve a greater reduction in cocaine use -- at a fraction of
the cost -- than prison, the Rand study stated.

"We misread a lot what was going on in the 1980s, in that we thought
crack use was going to grow and take over society," said Dr. Jonathan
Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who conducted the
study. "The real tragedy is that now that it's clear that crack was
not the epidemic it was supposed to be, we still have these laws."

But few authorities on crime expect the laws to change, no matter how
full the prisons become. "For politicians, the drug debate is driven
by the three R's -- retribution, revenge, retaliation -- and that
leads to the fourth R, re-election," said Dr. James Alan Fox, dean of
the college of criminal justice at Northeastern University.

This month, the Clinton administration announced a plan to cut drug
use in half by 2007. After years of reduced federal financing for drug
rehabilitation, it would increase money for treating addicts.

The war metaphor has been dropped by the White House, and by some in
Congress as well. But the emphasis on long mandatory prison terms and
locking up small-time dealers remains the main strategy for Congress.

"I believe it is crucial, given our continuing struggle in the war on
drugs, that we send an unwavering and unambiguous message to all
Americans, and our children in particular, that the sale of illegal
drugs is dangerous, wrong and will not be tolerated," said Sen.
Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Abraham has introduced a bill that would establish much longer
sentences for people convicted of powder cocaine offenses, making them
closer to crack.

"All that bill would do is lock up a bigger batch of small fry," said
Julie Stewart, a former member of the conservative Cato Institute, who
founded Families Against Mandatory Minimums after her brother was sent
to prison on a marijuana conviction. The group has 37,000 members.

But with polls showing that most Americans favor long prison terms for
drug trafficking, attempts to persuade Congress to reconsider the laws
have gone nowhere. Sentiment has remained the same for nearly a
decade, dating to a time when some politicians predicted that the
United States could be drug-free by the year 2000. Nobody makes such a
prediction these days.
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MAP posted-by: Derek Rea