The sentence does not always match the crime. There are plenty of people who found themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time, or who made a mistake – or are battling with their own drug addiction issues – who are now facing years and years behind bars.
Legislators around the country are finally starting to come around on this, though, which is part of the reason why changes were recently made to mandatory minimum sentences in Maryland. These changes will hit the Baltimore-area in a big way, as Baltimore County is one of the busiest in the state when it comes to locking people up for drug dealing crimes.
Reducing sentences for drug offenders
The Justice Reinvestment Act went into effect in late September. Prior to this act, mandatory minimum sentencing meant that repeat drug dealing offenders were subject to 10 years in prison for a second-time offense. Third-time offenders were facing a minimum of 25 years behind bars, while fourth-time offenders faced 40 years.
There are numerous issues one could cite with mandatory minimums, including that these sentences:
- Took discretion away from judges. Judges were forced to rely on minimum sentences – even if the punishment did not match the crime.
- Pushed people to plead guilty. Such harsh penalties resulted in many just pleading guilty and accepting a plea deal. The idea here being that the plea would be a better deal than the long sentence.
- Treated people unfairly. Low-level offenders ended up facing the same consequences as leaders of drug rings.
- Did not address underlying issues. Many people with very real addiction issues are the same people who wind up facing second, third or even fourth-time drug dealing offense charges. Putting people behind bars is not treating the underlying issue – the addiction and lack of coping skills that are leading people to use drugs and make bad choices.
Drug dealing charges are still very serious
While the mandatory minimum sentencing laws did change in Maryland, no one should look at these changes as a get-out-of-jail free card. Consequences are still in place. Jail time is still very possible and the aftermath of having a drug dealing-related crime – or any drug crime — on your criminal record is still there.