As a member of Congress, I will work to reduce or eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. These excessive sentences are not only unjust to defendants and expensive for the taxpayers, but they have become an important contributor to the social problem of poverty itself. Many people in need of rehabilitation are being locked up for excessive terms — breaking up families and crushing potential contributors to our society. People living in poverty, and particularly minority males, are disproportionately represented among the population of individuals incarcerated for drug crimes.
Adding to the disproportionality of the effects of sentencing policy on impoverished communities is imbalance among the minimums themselves. Under the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986 the same minimum sentence of 5 years without parole for possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine was applicable to possession of only 5 grams of crack cocaine, which is cheaper and more accessible than powder cocaine in communities of poverty. Even under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, possession of 1/18th the amount of crack cocaine as powder cocaine earns the same mandatory sentence.
Sentencing reform has been an area of deep concern to me for nearly 20 years. I have consistently fought against the overuse of incarceration, introducing sentencing reform legislation, “An Act eliminating mandatory minimum sentences related to drug offenses” (S.634), that is currently pending in Massachusetts. I also voted against a “three strikes and you’re out” rule that went too far.
A new study by the International Centre for Prison Studies shows that the incarceration rate in the United States is the highest in the world. People who have been incarcerated often finish their sentences with less ability to function as law-abiding citizens than when they went in. Moreover, high rates of incarceration in communities of poverty may devalue the currency of punishment, making it socially acceptable to spend time in jail and possibly going so far as to turn prison into a positive rite of passage.
As noted by Attorney General Eric Holder, “a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities.” When it comes to drug crimes, we should focus as much as possible on breaking the cycle by improving substance abuse treatment and expanding the use of screening, brief intervention and referral (SBIR) in health care and other settings to encourage people to voluntarily seek treatment. By investing more energy and resources into solving the problems at the root of drug crime, we can begin to help heal communities scarred by addiction and the often-attendant violence and incarceration.
Of course, to really combat the problem of poverty, we need to do more. Other measures should include: education reform focused on individualization of instruction and preparation for jobs in the modern global economy; comprehensive immigration reform that will ensure all workers have the ability to assert and protect their legal rights; and gun control reforms aimed at addressing the issue of gun violence rather than demonizing gun owners. If elected to Congress, I will continue to work hard on these important issues.
Please visit wb4congress.com to learn more about my candidacy and don't hesitate to reach out to me personally -- my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my cell phone is 617-771-8274.