Jeff Mizanskey is a Missouri resident and great-grandfather. He is also facing life imprisonment for a nonviolent marijuana conviction. People like Jeff end up in these types of situations because of mandatory sentencing laws. In Missouri, it's three strikes you're out. Because Jeff had two other marijuana convictions on his record, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Some states are catching on that incarceration is not the answer, particularly for low-level and nonviolent offenders. The United States has the highest incarceration rate and prison population in the world. This has done little to reduce the overall crime rate. In fact, states that have begun to offer alternative sentencing options in lieu of incarceration have seen reductions in the overall crime rate.
Alternative sentencing options and specialized dockets are particularly helpful for drug offenders who wound up in the justice system because of addiction. Prison is not the answer to addiction – in fact, many people don't become addicted to drugs until they're in prison. Rehabilitation is the answer to addiction, and consequently, the answer to lowering crime and recidivism rates.
Mandatory drug sentencing does little other than deterring friends and family from ratting out their loved ones. For example, if you know your son or daughter is dealing in heroin at their high school, you probably will not want to get help from the police because of mandatory prison terms. Incarceration should absolutely be reserved for violent offenders, not people like Jeff who are battling addiction.
If you still think mandatory minimum sentencing is a good idea, let's compare:
When it comes to sentencing drug offenders and other low-level, non-violent offenders, we need to be smarter. Lives, quite literally, depend on it.