The Americans have been fighting the war on drugs for more than 20 years with their tough-on-crime agenda. However, the Americans are now moving away from mandatory minimum sentences without any chance of parole as more than 20 states struggle to afford it in the current economic times. All the while, Tory PM Harper plans to impose their failed justice system on Canada.
Both Republicans and Democrats have acknowledged that the tough-on-crime, one-size-fits-all sentences have failed, however, Canada’s Conservatives feel that this tough-on-crime agenda that failed in the United States will work flawlessly in Canada.
"Most police officers are fairly conservative and we want to see people go away for a lot of time but we're also realists," Lt. Richard Santangelo from Belmont Massachusetts said.
Prisons in Massachusetts are currently at 140% capacity and costs the state roughly $50,000 per year for each of its 11,000 inmates which is why Santangelo said that he was reluctantly open to sentence reforms.
"The prisons are so overcrowded right now, most of them, if we can free up a little space for the more hardcore drug offences, it might be what we have to do."
The Governor of Massachusetts has introduced a bill that would remove mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses and shrink drug-free school zones rom 300 to 30 meters. People who would be caught dealing drugs within that radius would face 2 years in jail.
The Democrat representative Will Brownsberger for Belmont and a former state assistant attorney general has published research concerning these drug-free school zones and writes, "The idea of a school zone is a place that should be especially safe," he said. "But if you define very broad school zones, then basically any place that anybody might deal drugs is a school zone with the result that they don't have any incentive to stay away from schools."
His research concludes that there is no difference in the density of drug deals near schools or farther away and says that school zones only create mandatory minimums that basically apply to the majority of territory in cities.
The nearby state of Rhode Island recently scrapped all mandatory minimums for drug offences. Mark Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-DC think-tank, said, "Governors need to balance their budgets, and if you want to do that in the short-term you can't possibly do that without looking at the cost of incarceration.” He also said that as a result, these new measures are becoming wide-spread.
Tim Cruz, the district attorney of Plymouth Count isn’t thrilled by the governor of Massachusetts’ plan saying, "I believe, living and working in a community that I currently am in right now, I believe first and foremost that drug-dealing is a violent activity.”
Cruz also describes himself as the state’s most Conservative DA and says that he is proud at how tough the state has been on drug dealers. "If an individual sells drugs, whether it be Class B, which is cocaine or crack, and they sell above a certain weight, over 200 [grams], is a 15-year minimum here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If you do that within 1,000 feet of the real property of a school then you're also looking at another two years on top of that for a 17-year mandatory minimum sentence in jail," he said.
Republican State Representative Dan Winslow said that he didn’t always feel that the mandatory minimums that he imposed were right during his eight years as a circuit judge in the Massachusetts lower trial course.
"I think I'm the first judge ever to serve in the state legislature so I bring with me the experience of seeing these laws in effect."
Winslow said that he recalled a case where he had to sentence a man with no record and was a college student on a full hockey scholarship to two years and a day in prison.
While Cruz argued that mandatory minimums result in consistent treatment and prevent one state from being tougher than another on its criminals, Winslow argues that they hand the sentencing decision from the judge to the prosecutor.
"It didn't feel very good. It didn't feel just. I do think that when you do the crime you have to have some consequences but I also think that the consequence should be tailored,” Winslow said.
"The issue is whether minimum mandatories as a concept works for non-violent offenders," he said. "You know we've had the benefit now of seeing the war on drugs. Can we really say we're winning it?
"Should you treat somebody who has never ever been in trouble with the law and has clearly made a mistake, screwed up, so to speak, the same way you would somebody who has a long record of drug abuse or violence? I don't think so."
Republican State Representative Dan Winslow
All the while, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have increased spending on his tough on crime agenda by over 35% since he came to power in 2006 and plans to spend billions on new prisons to support the system that the Americans are currently phasing out. All the while, his finance team speaks of cuts to rebalance the nation’s budget, although, if one thing is for sure, the mounting cost of Harper’s crime agenda will be exempt from the knife.