Letters: Doing more on drug sentencing

U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder speaks at the American Bar Assn's annual meeting in San Francisco Annual meeting at Moscone West in San Francisco on Monday, where he said the Obama administration would cut back harsh sentences for low-level drug offenders and divert crime-fighting dollars elsewhere.
(Tony Avelar / Handout/EPA)

Re “Rethinking drug sentences,” Editorial, Aug. 13

Federal sentencing reform is long overdue. 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 cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, New York chose the zero-tolerance approach. Meanwhile, in Washington, Mayor Marion Barry was smoking crack and America’s capital had the highest per capita murder rate in the country.

Crack use declined in both cities simultaneously. Research shows the decline was not due to the passage of federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Simply put, the younger generation realized what crack was doing to their older peers.


This is not to say nothing can be done about hard drugs. 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

Arlington, Va.

The writer is a policy analyst at Common Sense for Drug Policy.

It isn’t clear what the administration’s new policy on drug sentencing will mean for people currently behind bars.

President Obama should use his authority to commute the sentences of the roughly 5,000 people who were charged under the old 100-to-1 crack-to-powder cocaine ratio who are not eligible for relief.

Society would be better served by not locking up people with extraordinarily long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

I know because I was sentenced to 15-to-life under mandatory sentencing laws. I wound up serving 12 years because I received clemency from the governor of New York. It was a waste of human life and tax dollars that could have been used for needy communities.

Anthony Papa

New York

The writer is the media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.


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