HIGHTOWER: The Zenith of Drug-War Insanity
America's failed, multimillion-dollar drug war is a crazy collection of policy insanities, including the militarization of U.S. drug policing, the routine seizure of innocent people's property, the intervention in Colombia's civil war, and the widespread use of illegal searches. But the zenith of drug-war insanity is the rigid policy of mandatory sentencing, which has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Americans for non-violent drug possession charges, just so politicians can look tough.
These "tough" politicians should have to spend 24 hours with Terrence Stevens. The New York Times reports that he was arrested on a bus in Buffalo in 1990 for possessing only five ounces of cocaine. He was in a wheelchair at the time of his arrest, suffering from muscular dystrophy. He had no previous drug convictions, but get-tough New York politicians had passed an inflexible mandatory-sentencing law, so Mr. Stevens was sent, wheelchair and all, to prison for a minimum of 15 years -- a longer term than if he'd been convicted of rape or manslaughter.
Eight years into the sentence, the Times found Mr. Stevens in his cell, mostly paralyzed, his limbs limp, "and his muscles so atrophied that his body slumps to the left, squeezing his left lung," making the very act of breathing labored and painful. He has to rely on other prisoners for life's basics: "They've got to put me in and out of bed," he says -- "On and off the toilet. Dress me. Bathe me." He's a threat to no one, but he's stuck in that prison for at least another seven years, costing New York taxpayers more than $30,000 each year to keep him there.
Even the judge who was forced to sentence him is appalled: "It's a sad commentary that the law doesn't permit for the proper relief that should be given a human being."
This is Jim Hightower saying ... To help stop this insanity, contact Families Against Mandatory Minimums at 202-822-6700.