Strengthening A Failed Policy, Again…

When something doesn’t work leave it to the GOP to double and triple down on failed policies. Attorney General Sessions has ordered federal prosecutors to “seek the maximum punishment  for drug offenses.” expect another growth cycle in increasing prison populations.

NPR – The United States puts more people behind bars than any other country, five times as many per capita compared with Britain or Spain.

It wasn’t always like this. Half a century ago, relatively few people were locked up, and those inmates generally served short sentences. But 40 years ago, New York passed strict sentencing guidelines known as the “Rockefeller drug laws” — after their champion, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller — that put even low-level criminals behind bars for decades.

Those tough-on-crime policies became the new normal across the country. But a new debate is under way over the effectiveness of tough sentencing laws.

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Rockefeller, New York’s Republican governor, had backed drug rehabilitation, job training and housing. He saw drugs as a social problem, not a criminal one.

But the political mood was hardening. President Richard Nixon declared a national war on drugs, and movies like The French Connection and Panic in Needle Park helped spread the sense that America’s cities were unraveling.

Late in 1972, one of Rockefeller’s closest aides, Joseph Persico, was in a meeting with the governor. He says Rockefeller suddenly did a dramatic about-face.

“Finally he turned and said, ‘For drug pushing, life sentence, no parole, no probation,” says Persico.

That was the moment when one of the seeds of the modern prison system was planted.

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The Rockefeller drug laws sailed through New York’s Legislature. And pretty quickly this idea of getting tough, even on petty criminals, went viral, spreading across the U.S. Other states started adopting mandatory minimum and three-strikes laws – and so did the federal government.

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Journalist and historian Scott Christianson has written for decades about drug crime and America’s prison system. He says we’re just coming to terms with the impact of these policies – on poor neighborhoods, on race relations and on taxpayers.

“I think that this state and our society really has to do some hard thinking and to reflect on the impact of this long-term war on drugs – what it has meant for our society and what it has cost,” Christianson says.

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Half a million Americans are serving long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Those inmates make up 48 percent of the inmate population in federal prisons.

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“I concluded very early that this was a failure. It’s filling up the prisons, first-time offenders,” Persico says. “This was obviously unjust – and not just unjust, it was unwise; it was ineffective.”

This debate is far from over. Supporters of mandatory minimums say the policy has helped reduce crime in some cities, including New York, and they point to modest declines in the use of some drugs, particularly cocaine. Persico says Rockefeller himself never expressed any second thoughts or reservations about the policy that carries his name.

And now, Attorney General Sessions Orders Tougher Drug Crime Prosecutions.

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Les Carpenter

Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and Corrective Exercise Specialist working with those over 50 years of age. Currently work at Prime Fitness located in The Enfield Senior Center, Enfield CT. Semi retired and enjoying life in the semi fast lane with my lovely bride and super grandchildren!

6 thoughts on “Strengthening A Failed Policy, Again…”

  1. Once again they are trying to roll back history. The city where I live is blanketed with legal marijuana stores; it’s been legal here for a couple of years now without causing any problems. They’ll be trying to bring back alcohol prohibition next.

    Of course, looking at the rates of conviction and lengths of sentences for different races suggests another possible motive.

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  2. We are beginning to see what Trump’s job creation program is like. First we have Trumpcare, which if becomes law, will reverse the downward trend in medical related bankruptcies and be a boon for bankruptcy lawyers. Now we have increased sentences for drug related crimes which is a boon to the private prison industry.

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  3. All excellent comments. This administration seems hell bent on setting our country back decades. I hope Trump and his damn administrations implodes. It can’t be gone soon enough.

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  4. Re Jerry’s comment about private prisons, “it was only a few months ago that private prisons looked like they were on their way out. In August [of 2016] , the Obama Administration slammed them for being more expensive and less safe than government-run facilities”. After Trump’s “election”? “Attorney General Jeff Sessions scrapped the Obama-era guidance to phase them out”. (CNN Money: Private prison stocks up 100% since Trump’s win, 2/24/2017).

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