Across the United States, District Attorney offices, activists and members of Congress are proposing reform of drug sentencing. Critics of these sentences believe that incarceration of low-level drug offenders is not deterring illicit activities as they once were. Rather, they are becoming an expensive waste of money for taxpayers.
Eric Holder, former Attorney General to the United States has said, “We must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is, in too many ways, broken, and with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate — not merely to warehouse and to forget.”
It appears, that states are listening and many are seeking to ease these penalties with legislative action. From the perspective of a drug lawyer in Brampton, here is a look at what is happening in various states across the union.
The Crime and Justice Institute reports that the state of Nevada imprisons about 250 inmates a year for drug-related violations. A panel on the state’s justice system is making recommendations in December of 2018 to reduce penalties of possession of small amounts of illegal narcotics and related drug possession charges. Namely, the recommendations are to take what were previous felony charges and reduce them to misdemeanors. Carson City District Judge, Jim Wilson, is on record with local media outlets saying that “addiction is a disease” and that placing addicts in prison “makes no sense.”
Las Vegas Law Enforcement agencies have expressed concern about these recommendations, citing that without felony charge implications, addicts may not get the help they actually need.
Lawmakers at the Nevada state house are also expected to hear more about the sentencing of drug trafficking laws. Currently, trafficking of illegal narcotics is based on the weight of how much an offender is carrying on them at the time of arrest. Reform would base trafficking charges on possession rather than weight alone.
Formerly, Idaho had mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related charges. This tied the hands of judges in the state from making any concessions for offenders on a case by case basis. The mandatory laws ranged from one to 15 years in prison for various drug-related charges involving cocaine, meth, and heroin or marijuana.
Earlier in 2018, the Idaho House voted 46-20 to easing drug sentencing for low-level drug-related charges. The new policies would allow judges to stray from the “mandatory” sentencing when they believe an offender is not a threat to society.
Lawmakers were clear in drawing a line that this new policy isn’t a testament to going easy on the war against drugs. Rep. Christy Perry is noted saying, “We are not condoning drugs – we have to make that very, very clear here.” She said that the current law makes most offenses a drug trafficking charge requiring a mandatory sentence. The new laws would ease this and allow judges to determine the outcome of cases based on their unique situations and persons involved.
Recently, in Oklahoma, the state reformed four of it’s toughest drug penalty laws. The state is known for having some of the strictest drug laws in the country. In many cases, the new laws would cut drug possession sentences in half. For example, first-time drug possession (non-marijuana) charge would result in a felony and 2-10 years in prison. Under the reformed law, while still a felony, the sentence would be reduced to 1-5 years in prison. Second-time offenders with possession of marijuana used to be subject to a sentence of 2-10 years in prison. Under reform, that has been reduced to 1-5 years in prison.
Reform was based heavily on the state of Oklahoma’s prison populations and child services environments. The state was seeing prison overcrowding, an overwhelming amount of children in DHS, and lack of resources for addiction and rehabilitation.
Similarly, Oregon has taken massive leaps in “de-felonizing” drug-related sentences. Law enforcement officials along with lawmakers were focused heavily on the results of these hard-hitting sentences, especially for first and second-time offenders. Individuals with a felony charge attached to them were having a harder time seeking employment and housing, making rehabilitation nearly impossible. Simultaneously, an amendment also passed to allocate an additional $7-million-dollars for drug treatment programs.
The Future – As results come in from states who are leading in drug sentencing reform, lawmakers of other states will no doubt, be paying attention. Major cities, like New York, have seen changes in drug-related incidents lead by the District Attorney’s office making new policy changes. The hope is, that the new policies will prove that handling drug possession charges differently, will inspire state lawmakers to see the benefit of drug sentencing reform.