Instead of Dismantling Draconian, Unpopular Mandatory Minimum Sentences, Extremist Congresspeople Push to Expand Them

Press Release May 11, 2005
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Tony Newman at (212) 613-8026 or Elizabeth M

Mandatory minimum sentences have recently come under fire from U.S. Supreme Court Justices as well as high profile observers across the political spectrum, so it came as a shock to many that a small group of legislators are proposing a massive expansion of the controversial sentences, instead of dismantling them. The proposed anti-drug legislation is so controversial that even some “law and order” Republicans are troubled by it. Among other things, it would mandate life sentences for some minor marijuana offenses, and it could sentence parents who failed to report rumors of drug trafficking at their teen’s school to police within 24 hours to 10 years in prison.

“Our country’s prisons are already overcrowded with people serving massive sentences for non-violent drug offenses,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The recent Supreme Court decision provided a perfect opportunity for legislators to do the right thing and untie judges’ hands. Instead, they’re trying to handcuff the judges completely.”

Known as “Defending America’s Most Vulnerable: The Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act” (H.R. 1528), it would essentially overturn the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision by making all federal sentencing guidelines mandatory and enact new draconian penalties for a variety of non-violent drug offenses. Mandatory minimums are opposed by the American Bar Association, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and each of the 11 Federal Judicial Circuits.

The bill has been put on the same legislative fast-track as a recent controversial anti-gang bill that the U.S. House of Representatives passed in less than two month’s time. A similar bill was stopped in Congress last year, but its supporters are determined to pass it this year.

The bill, which has already passed out of subcommittee, could come up in the full House Judiciary Committee this month. The Drug Policy Alliance and other groups have launched a nationwide campaign to kill the bill outright. An e-mail to Alliance supporters yesterday resulted in more than 3,000 people faxing Congress in less than 24 hours.

“Congresspeople should think about what they would want for their own children when they vote on this legislation,” added Piper. “Do they really want their son or daughter to go to spend years in jail for not calling police about a college classmate’s marijuana use?”

Among other things, H.R. 1528:

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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