Pubdate: Fri, 19 Nov 1999
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 1999, New Haven Register
Author: William Kaempffer

Drug Sentencing Ineffective, Prof Says

NEW HAVEN -- A Yale University law professor maintains mandatory jail sentences for some drug offenders has backfired, leaving America's "war on drugs" bankrupt with too-powerful prosecutors and dubious witnesses.

"There's a lot of innocent people in prison as a result of mandatory minimum sentencing," said Professor Steven Duke Thursday. "This is simply an insane approach to the problem."

The problem lies with prosecutors who can lord 20- or 40-year prison sentences over the heads of defendants and then offer them deals or even immunity if they turn informant.

"When someone is facing that kind of time, most people are willing to do most anything," Duke said.

And that includes lying to save your own hide, he said. Duke spoke during a forum at the New Haven Free Public Library sponsored by Hartford-based Efficacy, a nonprofit group that espouses legalization of drugs and elimination of mandatory minimum jail terms.

Also speaking at the event were Nicholas Pastore, research fellow with the Criminal Justice Policy foundation and former New Haven police chief; and Derby Superior Court Judge Philip E. Mancini Jr.

"America's war on drugs does far more harm than good," Mike Gogulski, vice president of Efficacy, said Thursday, And he said the failed "war on drugs" is creating a new class of lost and disenfranchised citizens -- what the activists called the prisoners of the drug war.

Mandatory minimum prison sentences tear apart families for crimes that are, in many cases, "bottom of the totem pole offenses," Gogulski said.

Efficacy is currently sponsoring a photo exhibit at the library as a way of giving that lost population faces and names.

Margaret Thornton, executive director of the organization, said the photos often tell the tale of non-violent, first-time offenders facing decades in jail under tough federal guidelines.

She said that despite the $1 trillion spent on combating drugs in the last 25 years, "drug problems are still as persistent as ever, if not worse."

The photo exhibit, "Human Rights and the Drug War," will be on display through Nov. 26.

Mancini, a former prosecutor and judge for 28 years, said the answer doesn't lie in more jails and stiffer sentences.

"I don't think drug users belong in jail," he said. "The cure is building drug centers."

Pastore agreed, saying the war on drugs had an effect on police too, transforming them from "public servants" to "soldiers in the war on crime and drugs."

"If there are no enemies out there, we will create them," he said.

Efficacy promotes complete legalization of marijuana and legalization of all other drugs by medical prescription.