Friday, November 15, 2013

Life Sentences for First-time, Non-Violent Offenders


I'm hijacking Shrink Rap for a moment.  I feel like I'm justified in linking to an article about mandatory minimum prison terms because the correctional system is where many people obtain psychiatric services in our country. 

Nicholas Kristof writes in Serving Life for This?
about some egregious stories of people serving long prison terms for drug-related offenses.  

One woman had no prior legal history, was not found with any drugs, but was convicted based on the testimony of others who testified against her in exchange for reductions in their own sentences.  So the 32 year old mother, with no prior arrests, was sentenced to life in prison, not because the judge thought that was fair, but because minimum sentencing laws left him no choice.  Mr. Kristof has other stories, including one of a man who transported meth to pay for his son's bone marrow transplant, after a community fundraiser brought in $50,000 falling quite short of cost of the procedure.

It's time to end the minimum sentence experiment for non-violent crimes.  If you don't care about the lives of those lost to prison, about the effects this has on them or their families, then care about those of us who pay taxes.  A person in prison is supported by the government: they get free housing, food, clothes, heat, medical care -- all at the expense of the taxpayer.  It's not cheap. People in prison don't work, they don't earn money, they don't pay taxes -- it's a lose-lose proposition every way you consider it, and it hasn't worked in our so-call "War on Drugs."   Long sentences?  As a mandated minimum with no consideration of the circumstances?  For a non-violent crime?  It's time to reconsider these laws and question whether they make sense or should be repealed.