Latest Drug War Proposal Repeats Same Old Mistakes

November 9, 1999 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASETuesday, November 9, 1999

WASHINGTON — Saying it would lead to an explosion of prison populations and costs, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged the Senate to reject a harsh drug control amendment expected to be offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT. The ACLU particularly objected to the amendment’s requirement that mandatory minimum sentences for cocaine offenses be made even harsher.

“Senator Hatch has it wrong,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Instead of providing cost-effective treatment to cocaine users, this measure would pack the federal prisons with thousands of non-violent drug offenders and force taxpayers to foot the bill.”

The Hatch amendment is scheduled to be debated as part of the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1999, S. 625. The ACLU said the Hatch measure’s most troubling provisions include:

  • Harsh mandatory minimum sentences for the possession or sale of powder cocaine. According to figures from the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the increased sentences will result in the additional incarceration of 5,529 people in the first year alone. This translates into a projected costs of $1.5 billion over a 10 year period. Even Barry R. McCaffrey, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has said “we can’t incarcerate away the problem.”
  • A misguided voucher scheme that would provide federal funding for a very limited number of children to attend private or religious schools at government expense. While the voucher amendment would permit a few children to leave troubled schools, it would provide no federal funding to improve the overall safety of public schools. “Fundamental fairness demands that we improve our public schools for every child instead of targeting a few for special privileges,” said Terri Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Representative.

“We have already learned that throwing more people into jail will not solve our nation’s drug woes,” King said. “There is no reason to repeat the same mistake.”

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