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November 2005
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We get a visit from a prosecutor

An Assistant District Attorney from New York stopped by Drug WarRant and dropped a comment on the item below:

I think that unfortunately these “life sentences” we hear so much about are blown completely out of proportion by people who have some sort of agenda to advance. There’s some detail at http://thepeopleareready.blogspot.com/2005/10/if-you-cant-do-time.html although I find that a lot of people don’t want to hear the truth.
[Sure, I’ll give his new blog the free plug.]

Um, yes, I have an agenda I wish to advance. I’ve been fairly clear about that. I want to end the ineffective and destructive drug war that’s been waged against the American people and find alternativess to a prohibition scheme that increases black market profits and encourages corruption in government. However, I’m not sure about this notion of life sentences being “blown completely out of proportion.”
The Garrison Keillor post referenced noted: “As a result, a marijuana grower can land in prison for life without parole while a murderer might be in for eight years.” How is that blown out of proportion? It doesn’t say that all or most drug infractions are life sentences, but it says that it’s possible. That’s the truth, and it’s a horrific travesty. I don’t care if nobody gets a life sentence — the fact that such a sentence is even on the books for growing a relatively harmless plant is morally and intellectually wrong and should be clear to anyone with half a brain.
Our prosecutor, in the post on his website, oddly complains about people over-generalizing from limited examples and then goes and attempts to counter by using only one anecdotal case.
I have never indicated that most people get life sentences, or even double-digit sentences, but the numbers show that we are incarcerating a ton of people for a very long time for drug offences. Why is it that over half of federal inmates and more than 20% of state inmates are in for drug offences? This is appalling. In New York, it’s worse than the average for the other states — in 1980, 11% of those in prison were for drug felonies; in 2003, it was 38%.
Interestingly, in his attempt to show that the drug laws are not excessive, our prosecutor notes:

An example from one of my own cases, one of the first A-I felony drug sales I prosecuted involved a man who was fairly low on the totem pole, and unfortunately didn’t really have any useful to information to share. He was permitted to plead to an A-II, was sentenced to three years to life, and was out of jail in six months. Six months you ask? How’s that possible? In New York State, non-violent offenders up to a certain age (I believe it’s recently been raised to 46 years old), can enter a program called “shock incarceration”, which is similar to the boot camp programs you hear about sometimes. If successful, they can be out of prison in six months.

So our evidence that drug sentences are not that harsh is that someone who was low on the totem pole was allowed by our compassionate prosecutor to plead down to 3 years to life, and because he was eligible, could participate in shock incarceration to get out earlier.
Whoever, you are, The People, we welcome you to the debate, and hope to hear more from you.
A final note: The title of your post is “If you can’t do the time…” — a nice nod to the old Baretta show, but really irrelevant. The question is not whether people can do the time, but whether the time makes any sense at all.

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