Avoiding Shortsightedness in Prison Reform

Eric Holder isn’t using prison reform as a means to rehab his image

 Why Go Easy on Junkies? Part II
Evan Vucci:APLast week, Attorney General Eric Holder called for the reform of mandatory minimum prison sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Almost as quickly, Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson dismissed the move as symbolism. In “Eric Holder’s Drug War Speech: Don’t Get Too Excited Yet,” Dickinson predicts that Holder’s proposed policy changes will have little impact. Why? In a nutshell, too many inmates. Then Dickinson adds, “We’re not used to hearing U.S. Attorneys General talk this way.” Now, couldn’t that have been your title, Tim?

Writing for the investigative nonprofit ProPublica, Cora Currier implied a different sort of conspiracy. “The Sweeping Presidential Power to Help Prisoners that Holder didn’t Mention” suggests a betrayal of those given life sentences for possession of drugs with the intent to sell. Currier’s point is that Holder “skipped mention of the sweeping power the president has to shorten or forgive a federal prisoner’s sentence,” whereas I think aggressively prosecuted drug offenders don’t need rescuing from the president. Instead, it’s the system that needs to change. I’m also inclined to remind Currier that Holder’s avoidance of the hot potato of clemency and pardons in his speech does not a conspiracy make.
 So come on you guys, give the rigidly uninteresting bureaucrat a break already! Read more

Why Go Easy on Junkies?

Reforming mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.

RYAN SHULTZQ: What’s in it for you?

Q: Why should you care?

Q: Nonviolent criminals are still criminals, so why go easy on junkies?

A: Mandatory minimum sentencing reform for nonviolent drug offenders is not “going easy on junkies.”

In fact, nobody’s going easy on the junkies, especially junkies themselves. Addiction is a prison in its own right, and when our laws dictate that we actually imprison as many as we can for as long as we can, we perpetuate a cycle of inmates returning to their communities as maladapted as when they were prosecuted.

Still, does helping to change the life of an imprisoned drug addict sound wrong to you? Then think of it this way: Why should taxpayers like you and me spend upwards of $50,000 a year to simply house an addict? We’re not actually helping them become productive citizens, after all; a recent LA Times editorial on California’s incarceration woes reminds us that “prisons have been notoriously ineffective at purging inmates of their addictions, illnesses, gang ties or antisocial attitudes.”

Besides, junkies usually commit crimes the way lab rats run in circles or jump through hoops – because they’ve either been stimulated or manipulated into doing so. On the other hand, lawbreakers like me – convicted and sentenced to prison for robbery – are deliberate. We have getaway cars and backup plans. I’ve never seen a junkie or a lab rat with an escape route. Read more