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Ending Mandatory Minimum Sentences Could Save Future for Many

by Todd A. Smith

Leveling the Playing Field    

Young…strike one; Black male...strike two; a criminal record…strike three.

            For many Black males incarcerated for petty drug offenses, born down 0-2 in the pitch count, making one minor mistake effectively ends their chances of making a positive contribution to society.

            As a result of long mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offenses and a permanent criminal record, the chance of getting a decent job at a decent wage can be an impossible hurdle for people to overcome. 

However, the recent announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder to hopefully end mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenses will give many poor minorities the chance to correct youthful mistakes that would have cost them their entire life in the past.

            In the 1998 song “Changes,” Tupac Shakur rapped “Instead of war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.”

            While few are arguing that drug offenses should not receive some form of punishment, long mandatory minimum sentences, which was an overreaction to young children of color on the corner selling drugs, have caused our prison population to soar in the last few decades. 

Furthermore, Americans have spent an exorbitant amount of tax dollars to imprison non-violent offenders, when those same tax dollars could have been spent to improve education and job opportunities for people in low-income areas.

            If mandatory minimum sentences for small time drug peddlers were replaced with actual job training and a possible bright future, the actual rate of drug trafficking and drug abuse might decrease significantly.

            “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason,” Holder said on Monday.  “While the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.”

            According to the Los Angeles Times, instead of enforcing long mandatory minimum sentences, the drug offenders would be sentenced to drug treatment or community service.

            The issue of mandatory minimum sentences is one of the rare instances where conservatives and liberals alike are united in their thinking that the laws did more harm than good. 

            Many liberals believe that mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect poor, people of color, while many conservatives believe the law places too much of a burden on tax payers.  Both are correct in their assessments.

            While many drug dealers participate in this illegal profession because of greed, some do participate out of necessity.  Many have made the mistake of selling drugs because that’s the only life they know, while some get hooked on drugs because of one bad decision.

            Regardless of their reasoning for entering the drug game, one person in a neighborhood or a family showing them that selling drugs is not the only way to make money can positively change a group of people forever.

            If the tax dollars saved from the abolishment of mandatory minimum sentences is spent on creating opportunities for the poor, all it takes is one individual to shun the life of crime and take advantage of positive opportunities, and everyone that comes after him/her may do the same thing when in the past they might have followed that person into a life of crime.
            For a person of color, that one decision can make the difference of striking out in life or becoming a hit in life.

This article was published on Friday 16 August, 2013.
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