They say that bad facts make bad laws. One weekend in the 1980’s, Tip O’Neill, then Speaker of the House, heard of the sudden death of a famous basketball player. The athlete had died of drugs. In quick response to this, O’Neill introduced into the House the federal sentencing guidelines.
Since then, these guidelines have been our law. Prison sentences have been mandatory for even first time offenders. Judges have had almost no input into the sentencing of drug addicts. Mitigating circumstances have played no part in the process. And our prisons have become overloaded with inmates.
Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the guidelines should be amended so as to allow non-violent first time drug offenders options other than jail. While I am not generally a fan of Mr. Holder, he is correct on this issue. The sentencing guidelines should be amended, and possibly even eliminated.
Legislators often speak about budget cuts. They fail to mention the huge expenditures required for the construction and maintenance of prisons. The elimination of mandatory prison sentences for first-time drug offenders would not merely be the more humane solution. It would also be more cost effective.
It takes far less money to give a person rehab or drug education than it does to house him or her in prison.