Mandatory sentence isn’t answer to meth problem

Johnson City Press • Jan 24, 2014 at 8:45 AM

At a time when members of Congress, the judiciary and law enforcement are questioning the effectiveness of federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, one Tennessee legislator is proposing we do the same at the state level.As Press staff writer Becky Campbell reported earlier this week, state Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, plans to file legislation to establish mandatory minimum sentencing for anyone convicted of possessing any amount of methamphetamine. Hill’s bill would implement a minimum 180-day jail term to be served at 100 percent.A second part of Hill’s legislation makes simple possession of “any amount of methamphetamine” a class D felony that carries 2-12 years in prison. It would establish a minimum 30-day jail term to be served at 100 percent.Current state law calculates the punishment for manufacturing, delivering or selling methamphetamine by the amount in a person’s possession.We understand meth making has become epidemic in Tennessee and none of the laws the state General Assembly has passed so far have reduced the number of meth labs busted in this state, but a mandatory minimum sentence is not the answer. Mandatory minimums haven’t worked for other drug crimes, and a mandatory minimum won’t work for meth.It’s very costly to lock up nonviolent drug offenders for long periods of time. It’s certainly understandable that honest, law-abiding citizens would prefer to see these individuals kept off the streets for as long as possible, but there is the reality that whatever the length of the sentence, these offenders will someday be released. Then what? Will they return to their old ways, or will they have reformed?The latter is not likely to happen unless the offender has completed a sound, comprehensive drug treatment program. Battling addiction is a key component that is often missing in legislative efforts to reduce drug crimes.

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