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Repairing the damage caused by America's war on drugs

The "war on drugs" is a concept that dates back decades. It has been waged by numerous presidents with help from countless legislators. Its economic costs total billions of dollars per year, and its human costs are incalculable. Largely because of the war on drugs, the United States has 25 percent of the world's prisoners yet only 5 percent of the world's population.

Thankfully, the public and many politicians seem to be abandoning the approach of ever-stricter punishments for drug crimes. Some are even attempting to rectify disproportionately harsh sentences for non-violent offenders. A recent case from Missouri is a good example.

According to news sources, Missouri's governor has commuted the life sentence given to a man named Jeff Mizanskey. The now-61-year-old inmate was sentenced to serve life in prison without parole after being convicted of a non-violent marijuana offense in the 1990s. His severe sentence was the result of Missouri's "three strikes" law, which multiplies sentences based on prior offenses. That law has since been repealed, but similar laws are still on the books in many other states.

Because his life sentence was commuted after 21 years behind bars, Mizanskey is now eligible for parole. Five other non-violent offenders who had already served their sentences were pardoned by Missouri's governor earlier this year.

The fact that drug offenders reoffend is not surprising or rare. Indeed, drug crimes are often tied to factors such as addiction and poverty, which are rarely ever addressed in prison. As such, offenders have few safeguards to prevent them from using drugs again after being released. For this reason, many critics view three-strikes laws as particularly draconian. If simple punishment was the solution, it probably would have worked the first time.

Unfortunately, the war on drugs continues to be waged here in Wisconsin and around the country. Until we are ready to enact common-sense reforms, the costs of this war will continue to be far too high.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Missouri Man Sentenced To Life In Prison Over Marijuana Is Set Free," Matt Ferner, Sept. 1, 2015

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