Rep. LeFavour v. Sen. Darrington on mandatory minimums
In a PaleoMedia.org first we have head to head commentary on mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenders. House Bill 516, introduced Feb. 12, would allow judges to waive mandatory sentences for offenders who would benefit from drug treatment. The bill has not gained a hearing in the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee, and Sen. Denton Darrington, chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee has said he will not hear the bill either.
The bill also requires reporting on the availability of treatment resources for drug addicts in the state.
Here are views from Darrington and from Rep. Nicole LeFavour, one of six bipartisan sponsors of HB 516 in the House.
Sen. Darrington: Preserve Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
Criminals who are convicted for possession or trafficking of large volumes of drugs are always sentenced under mandatory minimum sentences under Idaho law. These are the drug dealers and manufacturers who make money marketing and distributing drugs to children and addicted adults. These are the drug dealers who destroy lives and families and damage our communities. Dealers know it is a criminal activity to engage in drug trafficking and distribution.
Mandatory minimum sentences exist solely to ensure that these criminals are punished according to the horrible crimes they inflict on society in Idaho.
When the Idaho Legislature passed mandatory minimum sentences it was specifically with these criminals in mind. Mandatory minimum sentencing is used solely for the purpose of ensuring these dangerous people are kept away from the public for a long time.
There are many other people who fall into criminal activity because of drug addiction. When convicted of a crime, these people are then appropriate candidates for substance abuse treatment in and/or out of prison. Idaho’s treatment efforts must go to those who fall prey to the drug dealers and manufacturers. It is unfortunate that we must spend so many state resources to treat a self-imposed condition.
People know they are violating the criminal laws of the state of Idaho when they take their first “hit” or smoke their first “joint.”
Idaho has the appropriate laws in place to sentence them properly. Mandatory minimum sentencing is not now, and never has been a tool for punishing these people.
A list of felonies in Idaho statutes was compiled at my request. That list includes 38 pages, nearly 350 felonies in total. Of that total, only eleven felonies involve a mandatory minimum sentence. These felonies are divided between driving under the influence and high volume drug crimes.
Many judges impose sentences that exceed those called for by the mandatory minimum laws for trafficking, manufacturing, or possessing large volumes of illegal drugs.
Let us show compassion to those for whom treatment is appropriate in or out of prison, and let us continue to properly incarcerate those who are destroying the lives of our people.
Rep. LeFavour: Focus on Effective Sentences
Senator Darrington, Chairman of Idaho’s Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee has written in opposition to any reforms in Idaho’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws. However the Senator actually makes a strong case in favor of sentencing reform like that contained in this year’s House Bill 516. This legislation would allow judges to use a treatment focused alternative to mandatory minimum sentences for offenders whose primary issue is addiction. The Senator says he will not hear this legislation, but yet says that we should show compassion for those for whom treatment is appropriate.
Unfortunately current Idaho law allows judges no discretion what so ever in these cases and forces a mandatory minimum sentence of three to twenty five years for anyone caught with certain quantities of a controlled substance, regardless of their need for treatment and circumstances of the case.
The Idaho Department of Correction’s own data indicates that a sentence of six months to one year is the most effective length of prison term to prevent new offenses in those whose primarily problem is addiction. This length of sentence provides a period of punishment and access to some of the Department of Correction’s most effective intensive group treatment programs, many of which are reserved for the last six months of a sentence. This length of sentence keeps offenders’ idle time to a minimum so as to reduce the impact of violence and the negative relationships which prisons create.
Let’s be perfectly clear, those who make money off selling drugs to others should go to prison, in many cases for long periods of time. However, for those people whose primary issue is addiction, the state of Idaho simply should not be continually filling in-state or out-of-state prison beds at a cost of almost $20,000 each a year per person. Idaho instead needs to invest more in improving regional treatment and prevention services, detox centers and recovery support in all parts of the state.
We can spend hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars to keep building and filling prisons, but realistically speaking, nearly every offender will leave those prison walls sooner or later. For the sake of public safety and accountability to the taxpayers of Idaho, we need to do what is most effective to rehabilitate those in our prisons so that they do not return to drugs and crime but instead return to their families and communities as productive, decent citizens. Allowing for a treatment focused alternative to mandatory minimum sentences will help accomplish this goal.