Federal Appeals Judge: More Rehab, Less Jail for Drug Offenders

8th Circuit Senior Judge Donald Lay has an op-ed in the New York Times today, Rehab Justice. He argues for federal drug courts, like those in the state system. We need more Judges--and most importantly, Congress--to adapt Judge Lay's reasoning:

Unlike the states, the federal criminal justice system offers no alternatives for nonviolent offenders charged with drug-related crimes. In the federal system, it is almost a certainty that a convicted drug offender will be incarcerated rather than going through a community-based treatment program. It is little wonder then that the federal prison system will continue to be overburdened. Given the success of drug courts in the states, the federal government should study how to modify its sentencing to incorporate elements of the drug court model and to assess the effectiveness of community-based alternatives to imprisonment for nonviolent federal drug felons.

Congress would need to authorize the mechanics of federal drug courts. One suggestion would be that magistrate judges could preside over the drug court, while federal probation officers could oversee the offenders' attendance at drug treatment programs as well as obtain employment and housing for them. A good start would be to develop sentencing policies that take drug dependency into account, and that place as much emphasis on preventing crime as on punishing misconduct. Sentences that combine treatment, monitoring and the threat of imprisonment hold the promise of long-term solutions to crime. They should be more readily available in the federal system.

It's the taxpayer that bears the biggest burden of long drug sentences.

However, beyond all of this is the fact that the real damage is incurred by the individuals who must spend a large portion of their life in prison. The damage to young prisoners cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Cases are now pending before the Supreme Court that will affect sentences in all federal cases. This presents an opportunity for the executive and legislative branches to bring sanity to federal drug sentencing. Congress has nothing to lose and everything to gain by passing legislation to carry out a program for federal drug courts.

We suggest you cut this op-ed out and fax it to your Senators and Congresspersons. Only they can make the change in mandatory minimum sentences.

< Bush Names New White House Counsel: Harriet Miers | Arlen Specter Will Chair Judiciary Committee >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort: