Princetonian Staff Writer
The Princeton Justice Project (PJP) held its second lecture in a series titled "An Unjust Sentence?" Saturday to highlight the negative aspects of mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes.
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, and Angelyn Frazer of Families Against Mandatory Minimums were the guest speakers.
Nadelmann said that while the United States includes five percent of the world's population, it houses more than 25 percent of the world's prison population.
He also focused on the increase in drug-related incarcerations, noting that in 1980, 10 percent of prisoners were incarcerated for drug-related charges. Today the figure is more than 30 percent.
"Do not punish people for what they put in their bodies if it doesn't harm anyone else," Nadelmann said. "The reason we attack some drugs but not others isn't because the health risks are that different but because the people who use them are different."
He attacked "racism against druggies" and said "the desire to alter consciousness is innate to human consciousness."
The speakers also addressed the U.S. government's "war on drugs," which Nadelmann described as "a cancer in society."
Frazer played video footage from a CBS News special on mandatory minimum sentences in which a young female driver was sentenced to life in prison for carrying more than 650 grams of heroin, placed in the car by her boyfriend without her knowledge.
"This [woman's sentence] is more than rapists get," Frazer said.
The mandatory minimum, under which the woman was sentenced, was enacted to "catch the big fish," Frazer explained. Eighty-five percent of those in jail sentenced under mandatory minimum laws have no previous criminal record, she said.
Frazer and Nadelmann both advocated treatment over incarceration and attacked the use of prisoners for labor.