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May 2005
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Freeport, Illinois gets it

Freeport is a town of about 26,000 in the middle of a large agricultural area in Northern Illinois. And yet, the Freeport Journal Standard editorial today nails Congress as far as mandatory minimums and the drug war: Mandatory Minimums a Smoke Screen.

Lost in the debate over Terri Schiavo and the filibuster – two less harmful examples of the new GOP judicial obsession – is Congress’ latest push to do an end-around a recent Supreme Court ruling that found the draconian sentencing guidelines imposed during the crime and drug war hysteria of the 1980s unconstitutional. One of those new creates a stricter definition of “gang crime,” allowing alleged gang defendants to be federally prosecuted. Another imposes insanely harsh sentences for a variety of low-level drug crimes, even though alcohol and cigarettes still kill far more people each year in America – legally.

Both bills have drawn fierce opposition from human rights, religious and civil rights groups, and are vehemently opposed by the American Bar Association. But in their zeal to bang the old “tough on crime” drum, the GOP rages forward, undaunted and oblivious to the obvious hypocrisy.

For example, even as states across the nation, not to mention Great Britain, Canada and Russia, move toward decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis, the proposed new law requires anyone convicted in federal court of passing a joint to someone who ever set foot in drug treatment to prison for a minimum of five years – 10 years for a second offense.

Meanwhile, the average time served by convicted rapists in America is about seven years.

What’s more, despite its obsession with low-level drug offenders of all stripes, Congress has done nothing to reverse the sentencing disparity for possession of crack – a scourge disproportionately found in black communities. Federal sentences for crack defendants remain far harsher than those for powder cocaine, a drug of choice favored by white America, including lawyers and Wall Street types with money to blow.

The Congressional push comes amid news last week of a dramatic shift over the past decade in U.S. drug policy from the most dangerous substances – cocaine and heroin – to the least harmful, diverting precious resources away from the prosecution of violent and white-collar crime. […]

No, the real threat to America isn’t “judicial activism.”

It is the insanity of putting more and more Americans in prison for low-level drug crimes – leaving millions of broken families, newly dependent on government handouts, behind.

I don’t agree with everything in the editorial, but it’s positive and an extremely powerful statement — clearly the editorial staff at the Journal Standard has researched the issue and knows the truth about mandatory minimums, the sentencing project study, crack cocaine disparities and much more. Nice to see.

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