Attorney General Eric Holder today announced a new Justice Department policy to charge non-violent drug offenders in such a manner as to not trigger severe mandatory minimum sentences that are contributing to our nation’s growing prison population. The Partnership at Drugfree.org applauds these new recommendations. We believe they will bolster judicial flexibility, while promoting treatment and rehabilitation over incarceration for addicted individuals.
Reserving the full force of law, with the most severe penalties directed at serious drug offenses among high-level or violent drug traffickers, as Attorney General Holder’s proposal does, also makes abundant sense. As he stated, we should take a “smart on crime” approach to drug policy instead of a “tough on crime” approach.
The current mandatory minimums have not proven to reduce the market for illegal drugs nor reduce illicit drug use in the United States to date. What’s more, the overt lack of sensible, middle-ground solutions and productive approaches to dealing with the problem is driving many to advocate for outright legalization of illegal drugs as a viable alternative. It’s time our leaders chart a course that embraces neither false extreme. It’s time to evolve our laws and policy, learning from the failures and successes of the past several decades, along with a strong element of common sense.
It is popular in law enforcement circles to say we cannot arrest our way out of our nation’s drug problem. Nor do mandatory minimums address the difficult decisions and challenges that come with the complex brain disease of addiction. The Partnership believes that making our justice system more flexible and able to help addicted drug offenders get the treatment they need are elements of a necessary and common sense approach. Our nation has seen the success of similar approaches, such as treatment-based drug courts, which divert non-violent offenders away from incarceration and return these individuals to productive lives in the community.
Let’s reserve the harsh penalties of our nation’s current drug laws for organized crime drug traffickers and violent drug offenders. We should instead focus our resources to evolve sentencing and policies that emphasize addiction treatment, reduction of recidivism and rehabilitation. The American public is ready for sensible policy that leads to significantly better outcomes.