Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Drug Crime Down in the Delta

Mississippi is in focus today, with the release of a new report by the ACLU called Numbers Game: The Vicious Cycle of Incarceration in Mississippi's Criminal Justice System.

This AP article in the Clarion-Ledger details why Mississippi is in dire need of sentencing reforms.  It offers the story of Atiba Parker, a FAMM member and first-time offender serving a 42-year sentence for a nonviolent drug crime, as just one example of the insanity of Mississippi's drug sentencing laws:

The [ACLU] report said the state's criminal code has a rigid and excessive schedule of mandatory minimum prison terms for drug possession that vary according to the weight of the drugs involved. For example, an individual possessing less than one-tenth of a gram of cocaine - about a tenth of what's in the size of a sugar packet - can be charged with a felony, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison.
The length of the mandatory sentence increases as the weight goes up, with possession of little more than an ounce of cocaine requiring a 10-year mandatory minimum. Such sentences have resulted in crowded prisons and a ballooning financial strain on the state, officials said. Mississippi has the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation, at 749 prisoners per 100,000 residents, according to the report.
According to the report, black offenders are three times more likely than white offenders to go to prison on drug charges, even though drug use rates among the two groups are nearly identical.
The ACLU's reform suggestions include replacing mandatory minimums with flexible sentencing guidelines, creating a safety valve for mandatory sentences, and redirecting money to drug treatment and prevention.

The article, report, and Atiba's story are all worth reading.

The question for Mississippi legislators: do you really want to keep paying for decades of prison time for people like Atiba?