FAMM staff member Andrea Strong knows all about the injustice of mandatory minimums -- from personal experience. Her story appears in the Cincinnati Enquirer and is a good reminder of why we don't need any more mandatory minimum prison sentences, no matter how appealing they may sound to legislators in an election year. A snippet:
My view is born of a painful personal experience. In 1991, my younger brother was arrested, tried, and convicted in federal court for his involvement in a conspiracy to sell marijuana. He introduced a marijuana buyer and a marijuana grower and was paid one time for making the connection. His codefendants continued buying and selling marijuana, and when they were arrested they turned in my brother, who was also held accountable for all the marijuana they sold.
My mother and I were devastated. We knew he was not a bad person, but rather someone who had made some bad choices for which he would have to pay. Do the crime and pay the time, we were raised to believe. But our grief turned to anger when my brother, a first-time marijuana offender, was ordered to serve the rest of his life in prison, thanks to a one-size-fits-all, federal mandatory minimum sentencing law.
I confess I did not know anything about how criminal sentencing laws worked. But after my brother was sentenced, I reached out to a group called Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). I soon learned that my family was one of thousands dealing with the negative consequences of criminal punishments dictated by politicians in Washington, D.C., rather than local courts. I also learned that mandatory minimum sentencing laws do not take into account whether someone is a small-time drug user or a major trafficker. The “minimum” sentences they establish are chosen out of thin air and reflect nothing but Congress’s sense of what sounds “tough.” They are also far from “minimum.” A life sentence for a first–time marijuana offense?!
Compared to most people sentenced to a mandatory minimum, my brother got lucky. He won his appeals and was released from prison after serving “only” 12½ years. Trust me when I say that when a parent, sibling, or child goes to jail, the whole family serves the sentence with him. My brother made a terrible mistake, but he did not need to spend the rest of his life in prison to recognize that. It would have been a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money to shelter, feed, and care for someone in prison who was not a threat to society and should have been working and paying taxes, which he does now.