Non-Violent Drug Offenders -Porp. 36

Topics: Drug addiction, Mandatory sentencing, Judicial discretion Pages: 5 (1741 words) Published: December 11, 2005
Have you heard the phrase "prisons are over populated!"? Statistics show 21.2% of low level drug offenders, that are incarcerated, do not have any current or prior violence in their records, no involvement in sophisticated criminal activity and no prior commitment. (USDOJ) Could this be the problem of prisons being over populated? There are many factors that need to be considered when looking for other possible methods of dealing with non-violent drug offenders. Some lawmakers believe the only way to deal with these offenders is to lock them up for long periods of time, while other feel the solution lies within treatment facilities and expanded social programs. With both sides having valid points we must then evaluate what is the cost of correcting this problem is and if fixing these non-violent offenders are worth it. A plan that would help in the over population of the prisons is to have the non-violent drug offenders sent to treatment instead of prison, to have them spend time in halfway homes, and be monitored by probation officers. A plan called Proposition 36. This plan was passed by 61% of California voters in November 2000. This initiative allows people convicted of 1st and 2nd time nonviolent, simple drug possession to receive drug treatment instead of incarceration. (California Campaign for New Drug Policies) This way, prisons are not becoming over populated and the addiction is being treated. Costs of keeping offenders in prison are higher then what are the costs for an offender to receive treatment. Many addicts are serving time and not having there addiction treated. There are about 1.2 million individuals in state prisons; approximately 125,000 prisoners are nonviolent drug offenders. (Center for Policy Alternatives) Why are there so many non-violent drug offenders in prison? It is due primarily to mandatory sentences for drug offenders. Mandatory minimum sentences for first-time offenders range from five years for simple possession of "crack" cocaine to 20 years for distribution of any narcotic. (U.S. Sentencing Commission) There are many benefits to having drug offenders in treatment. It would be teaching them of their addiction and how to deal with it. Offenders who receive treatment are less likely to continue using drugs or to commit crimes. Providing treatment for substance abuse is effective and saves billions of taxpayer dollars. It also cuts down drug use in half, decreases unemployment and homelessness, reduces unlawful activity, and reduces high-risk sexual activities. There is the notion that addicts will not be "cured" from treatment and that they will still use drugs. This is so, but, there are some addicts that will benefit from the treatment and become drug free. That means there will be past offenders less likely using and distributing drugs, which will lower the crime rate and the costs of keeping them in prison. There is also the thought that if they are not punished by being sentenced to prison that they have not received consequences for their actions. With the plan of Proposition 36 addicts would still be held responsible from there actions, they would have to attend treatment and be monitored by a probation officer. It would not be like a free ride. Opponents are opposed with Proposition 36 because of several reasons. Opponents believe that this program replaces judicial discretion with a mandatory and rigid system that is dangerous because it practically decriminalizes all drug use. (League of Women Voters of California Education) With the opposed plan, it will reduce the ability of drug court judges to order short jail sentences for defendants who regress in treatment programs, will cripple the effective form of drug treatment and will remove all incentives for addicts to recover. With the new plan the parole system would be threatened. Law enforcement would have to wait for addicted parolee to actually commit a violent or serious crime before...

References: California Campaign for New Drug Policies. Prop 36: The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act. Retrieved October 16, 2005, from
This site gives all the sections to the proposed Act of California
Fields, G. (2005, November). Prison Blues: Bulging jails and tight budgets make job of guard even tougher. The Wall Street Journal, CCXLVI NO. 94, A1.
The November Coalition. U.S. Department of Justice: An Analysis of Non-violent Drug Offenders with Minimal Criminal Histories. Retrieved November 16, 2005 from
Roleff, Tamara
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