As the Enterprise News made clear in an editorial last week, change begins with telling the truth. And the truth on this subject – the glaring truth – is that drug crime polices, both in Massachusetts and across the nation – have been essentially a complete failure, and a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars in law enforcement, prosecutorial and judicial resources.
The report I’m referring to, released Thursday June 18 2008 by the Massachusetts Bar Association, places the truth front and center. The report’s title: “The Failure of the War on Drugs.” This study, which is the result of more than a year’s work by a task force of respected lawyers, law enforcement and mental health professionals, comes to the conclusion that state politicians have almost universally ignored: Massachusetts’ drug laws and policies, like so many other states, are “wasteful, ineffective and cruel.” As a Massachusetts drug offenses lawyer, I can attest to the accuracy of that conclusion.
Among the task force’s findings:
• Drug ‘education’ programs fail to teach anything useful and show no signs of preventing drug abuse;
• Addiction treatment programs are underfunded and out of reach of those who need them most.
• Incarceration isn’t an effective deterrent to drug use or to recidivism, and never has been.
• Most of those who are imprisoned for drug-related crimes receive no treatment and, thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws (which I’ve blogged about previously,) receive no post-release supervision.
Does anyone wonder so many ‘offenders’ them find themselves behind bars again?
Even those who don’t tolerate alcohol or drugs should care about the massive public finances and judicial resources wasted on policies that don’t work. Between 1980 and 2008, the state’s prison population rose by 368 percent and the county jail population grew by 522 percent. Why? Largely due to mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws, that’s why. Believe me: I’ve seen the most inoffensive people, who might have been caught selling a small amount of marijuana to a friend within 1000 feet of a school, go to jail in a heartbeat as the result of these laws: People no more dangerous than you or me. Have mandatory drug sentencing laws like these reduced serious drug-related crime? You’d be a fool to think so. As a Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, I can assure you they have not. I’ve seen judges shake their heads in regret at being forced (that’s where the “mandatory” comes in – it takes away a judge’s sentencing discretion) to sentence a non-dangerous, low-level frug offender to jail time.
What should be done? I’ll talk about that in my next post.