Signing Drug Lifer Law Was a Mistake Says Former Michigan Governor
On February 18, former Michigan governor William G. Milliken said he made a mistake when he signed the "650-lifer" law twenty years ago. The "650-lifer" law mandates life sentences without parole for persons convicted of possession of more than 650 grams of cocaine or heroin (Linda Tien, "Milliken admits mistake, says drug lifer law is `inhumane,'" Kalamazoo Gazette, February 18, 1998, p. A5; Linda Tien, "Ex-governor says drug lifer law was mistake," Ann Arbor News, February 18, 1998, p. B8).
Milliken called the law "inhumane," saying it "wastes precious public dollars to lock up for life people who pose no threat to society." He said the law did not have its intended effect, but has primarily targeted nonviolent offenders with no prior prison record. Milliken said the 220 people serving life under the law would be better served by treatment than prison.
"It's exceedingly important that the governor who signed this law is taking this opportunity to publicly declare that it hasn't worked," said Laura Sager, director of Michigan Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "Judges need to have the discretion to fit the punishment to the crime," said Sager
State Senator William Van Regenmorter (R-Hudsonville), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored a measure that passed the Senate in October 1997 that would ease the lifer law. Van Regenmorter said, "Milliken is, in a sense, confirming what I did about a year and a half ago." A similar bill passed the Michigan House. Michigan Governor John Engler (R), although he voted for the "650-lifer" law while serving as a lawmaker, has expressed openness to reforming the lifer law. But no bill has passed both houses yet. (For further background information, see "Michigan Considers Reform of Mandatory Minimums," NewsBriefs, September-October 1997.)
Michigan FAMM, Laura Sager - 115 West Allegian, #950, Lansing, MI 48933, Tel: (517) 482-4982.
Michigan Sen. William Van Regenmorter - P.O. Box 30036, Lansing, MI 48909.