Editorial: A Grim Anniversary
Today marks a grim anniversary in US drug policy, the enactment 20 years ago by Congress -- without hearings -- of draconian mandatory minimum sentences that have packed the federal prisons with vast numbers of low-level, nonviolent offenders serving for unjustly long periods of time.
Two who actually appear innocent are Lawrence and Lamont Garrison, twins who worked their way up from a poor, crime-ridden, northeast Washington DC neighborhood to ultimately be admitted to -- and almost graduate from -- Howard University School of Law.
Almost -- a month before graduating, they were swept up in a federal anti-drug operation, apparently "turned in" by an actual player in the drug trade, who needed to give the feds some names to get his sentence reduced. At least that's the way it looks to us -- click here to read a summary we published about the case in Drug War Chronicle six years ago.
Six years ago -- a long time, even if they were guilty of the crimes of which they were accused and convicted. Indecently long -- as is the 20 years the sentences have been on the books, during which time criticism has been leveled at them from numerous quarters and myriad angles: unjust, even violative of human rights, corruptive of the justice system, ineffective but VERY expensive, cruel, counterproductive.
Today a staff briefing in the US Senate is addressing this issue. The politics of drug and crime policy are difficult, and reform to federal sentencing laws has been mostly intractable. But not entirely, and every issue has a tipping point that when the time is ripe can send it in a different direction if the opportunity is seized.
Let us hope that this will be the time. No, let's make it the time.