“Prosecutors can say, ‘Take these 10 years or, if you get a trial and are convicted, you’re going to look at life...That’s a pretty amazing power that unfortunately they are more than willing to wield.'"
The last couple of weeks have been...hectic, to say the least, with travel and a couple of major conferences I'm involved with. It's left little time for writing or posting anything personal but when I came across the article in the Huffington Post below, and remembered the resource I recently found on the Faces and Voices For Recovery website done by The Sentencing Project, I had to take a moment to get it out to others.
The report by the Sentencing Project, A Lifetime of Punishment: The Impact Of The Felony Drug Ban On Welfare Benefits details the hardships created upon those individuals who were ensnared in the failed war on drugs in this country and now suffer collateral sentencing impacts that affect them, their children, and their families..forever.
I don't care how you feel about those who use drugs or whether you believe or not that addiction is a disease. What you should care about however, is the cost to our community and to your wallet that comes with shoving people onto the street in destitution and hopelessness. In 2012, HUD Secy Shaun Donovan stated that average cost of one person who experiences chronic homelessness in a given community costs that community about $40,000 a year of taxpayer money. It's bad enough when our society must cover the costs of those who have no resources and exist "outside the margins" of our communities, but when you strip away all hope of ever being able to rebuild your life, you create a very unpredictable mindset within the individual who has been beaten down; I've said it before, strip away hope and all bets are off on what that person is capable of in order to survive.
Leave a man or woman with no legal options to care for themselves or their families and most of us will do whatever it takes. Nothing is "off the table" when it comes to survival, folks, and WE created that situation for them. You can argue that "they broke the law" but once they've repaid that debt, they deserve a chance to make it right. If we don't give them that chance, then there's absolutely NO reason to follow any other laws...ever.
From a moral and ethical standpoint, rapists, child molesters and convicted murderers aren't treated as unjustly as those who have felony convictions for drugs. It's an absurd waste of our continually shrinking tax dollars and morally reprehensible behavior from those who legislated this into existence.
This madness needs to end. Now.
Read the full report from The Sentencing Project here.
Drug Defendants Are Being 'Forced' To Plead Guilty, Report ClaimsOnly 3 percent of U.S. drug defendants in federal cases chose to go to trial instead of pleading guilty in 2012, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.
The small number begins to make sense if you consider the consequences faced by drug defendants convicted in court, argues the report's author, Jamie Fellner.
“Prosecutors can say, ‘Take these 10 years or, if you get a trial and are convicted, you’re going to look at life,’” said Fellner, an attorney who specializes in criminal justice issues at Human Rights Watch. “That’s a pretty amazing power that unfortunately they are more than willing to wield."
The effect, she argues, is that prosecutors essentially “force” defendants to plead guilty.
Last year, drug defendants in federal cases who went to trial and lost were sentenced to more than three times as many years in prison as those who took a plea, according to the report’s analysis of data from the United States Sentencing Commission, a government agency.
And the majority of those who did go to trial -- 89 percent of them -- lost.
The percentage of defendants in 2012 who fought their charges is likely an all-time low. In 1980, the first year for which the report reviewed the relevant data, the percentage of federal drug defendants who pleaded guilty was slightly more than 60 percent, and it has risen steadily since then.
The advent of mandatory-minimum sentencing laws in the mid-80s is largely responsible for the steady increase in guilty pleas, according to Fellner. Such laws required judges to impose harsh, predetermined sentences on people convicted of the distribution and, in some circumstances, possession of illicit drugs, while giving prosecutors the ability to offer defendants smaller sentences as part of a deal.
“If you can get someone to acknowledge guilt without the burden and expense of a trial, without having to marshal witnesses and line up witnesses, and without risking an acquittal, why not?” said Fellner. “You don’t have the cost of a trial, it doesn’t take the time and resources, and it increases the notches on your belt of how many convictions you’ve gotten.”
But in reality, the government lacks the resources needed to try everyone who is charged with a drug offense, said Steven Jansen, the vice president and chief operating officer of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, a professional group based in Washington.
“Justice would almost stand still if we took the majority of our cases to trial,” he said.
Jansen noted that efforts are underway to reform the nation’s mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. Lawmakers from both parties have introduced bills that would scale back the reach of those laws, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has directed federal prosecutors to shift their attention away from drug cases.
“Our system is looking at mandatory minimums and what we’re going to either do or not do about them,” Jansen said. “But a defendant is really not forced to accept a guilty plea. Obviously they have a right to go to trial no matter what the sentence is.”