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Easing mandatory prison sentences for low-level drug offenders is overdue
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In 1980, American taxpayers spent $540 million incarcerating 24,000 federal prisoners. Today, the United States spends over $6.9 billion locking up more than 218,000 people in federal prison. Half of these people are nonviolent drug offenders.

Mandatory minimum sentencing disrupts the balance of justice by transferring power from impartial judges to prosecutors and politicians. These inflexible one-size-fits-all sentencing laws may seem like a quick fix solution for crime but they undermine justice by preventing judges from fitting the punishment of the individual to the individual and the circumstances of their offense. Mandatory minimum sentences do not protect public safety or reduce drug use, but they do waste billions of dollars.

On Oct. 1, U.S. senators reached a deal to reduce prison time for some offenders known as The Smart Sentencing Act of 2015. Currently 6,000 nonviolent drug offenders will be released due to excessive mandatory minimum sentences. Studies prove that rehabilitation and halfway houses are effective in treating drug users who are charged with low-level drug offenses and are nonviolent.

Since the federal government understands the punitive stance of mandatory minimum sentencing why don’t the state courts and county district attorneys follow suit and examine the facts that show that rehabilitation and halfway housing programs work?

Nonviolent, low-level drug offenders who have children should be given the chance to serve their time by being sentenced to halfway houses, where they can attend drug treatment programs, and to be allowed to work and pay child support so that their children’s custodial parents do not have to suffer financially. No child support order is suspended when the noncustodial parent is incarcerated. The support order continues to accrue in high amounts which also add to the burden of the defendants struggles to be reincorporated into society upon release.

Please write or call your local representatives, judges and district attorneys offices to let them know it is time to make crucial changes to these archaic and overly punitive sentencing practices. For more information on how these heavy-handed sentences affect families go to This is the Families against Mandatory Minimum Sentencing site for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.

Let’s get to work on promoting recovery and rehabilitation rather than a system that simply hardens criminals. Gov. Nathan Deal said. “I firmly believe this is a better way to govern our criminal justice system. It’s a win-win: saving lives and saving money. It’s a great change for Georgia.”

Sharon Thomas

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