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Why mandatory drug sentencing reform is needed

Every day when North Carolina residents open the newspaper or turn on the T.V., there are stories about teens, men and women who have been sentenced to prison for drug-related crimes. According to the nonprofit Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the vast majority of individuals who are charged and subsequently convicted of drug crimes are non-violent offenders many of whom have no prior criminal record. Yet, in North Carolina and other states, a conviction of distributing or possessing a drug such as marijuana, cocaine or ecstasy means an individual is subject to mandatory drug sentencing laws and may spend years in prison.

During the 1980s the passage of punitive mandatory drug sentencing laws quickly resulted in hundreds of thousands of individuals being locked up in federal prisons across the country. The result? Mothers lost sons and daughters, children lost mothers and fathers and individuals lost the ability to overcome drug addictions and obtain the help they so desperately needed to make better choices and build better lives.

Locking up individuals convicted of nonviolent drug crimes has significant and negative social and economic ramifications. U.S. taxpayers spend more than "$50 billion annually to fund state prisons." Despite the fact that, during 2012, 85 percent of individuals who were sentenced to prison for drug offenses were nonviolent offenders, more than 96 percent of "drug offenders received a prison sentence." What's more, the average length of a prison sentence for a drug-related crime is almost six years.

In recent years, states across the country have experienced severe prison overcrowding leading both federal and state politicians to call for changes to mandatory drug sentencing guidelines. Several states have taken measures to explore and implement alternative drug sentences to include treatment and education programs and probation. Reductions in sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug offenders have also been made at the federal level, but overall sentences for nonviolent drug crimes remain harsh.

Individuals in the Charlotte area who are facing drug charges would be wise to contact a criminal defense attorney. An attorney who has successfully handled drug cases can work to defend an individual's rights and refute claims and evidence presented by the prosecution.

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