Panel Sponsored By Join Together Recommends Overhaul of Options for Drug Offenders in Criminal Justice System
A panel commissioned by the Boston-based group Join Together found that the criminal justice system does little to keep low-level, non-violent drug offenders from cycling through the system.
A report issued by the panel, "Fixing a Failing System," recommends that judges be given the option to sentence offenders to drug treatment instead of jail. To accommodate these offenders, treatment facilities should be greatly increased, the panel found.
The panel also called for correction of sentencing disparities, especially the difference in sentences for cocaine powder and crack offenses. The group found that new police interventions based on the principle of maintaining public safety rather than making arrests are most effective. The public's perception of the drug problem as a black, inner-city problem stems from an imbalanced view perpetuated by the media, the panel said.
Members of the group, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, spent eight months reviewing anti-drug programs and hearing testimony from police, community activists, lawyers, and treatment professionals: Donald M. Fraser, Chair, Former Mayor, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Dennis Flannigan, Member of the Pierce County Council, Tacoma, WA; Judge A. David Mazzone, U.S. District Judge for the District of Massachusetts; Claire C. McCaskill, Prosecuting Attorney, Jackson County, Missouri; Leroy O'Shield, District Commander, City of Chicago Police, 15th District; Sam Quintana, Chief Public Defender, Public Defender's Office in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Barbara Socarras, Correctional Probation Supervisor, Department of Corrections in Hiahleah, Florida; Elizabeth Stanley-Salazar, Vice President/Director of Operations, Phoenix Houses of California; Michael Walker, Executive Director, Task Force on Violent Crime, Cleveland, Ohio. The panel also included members of the Join Together staff: David Rosenbloom, Director; Janice Ford Griffin, Deputy Director; Bob Downing, Director of Policy Panels; Tamara Cadet, Technical Assistance Coordinator; Norman Scotch, Senior Advisor; and Robert Ambrogi, Esq., Editorial Support.
[Individual copies of the report are free from Join Together, 441 Stuart Street, 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02116, 617-437-1500. Additional copies are available at $5 each. The report can also be found at Join Together's Web site at http://www.jointogether.org/.]