Puerto Rico Gets Clemency Rolling: Why Not Release All Non-Violent Drug Offenders?

EspañolPuerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla signed a law this week that could lead to the release of roughly 150 inmates over the age of 60. According to a report in El Vocero, the clemency applies only to non-violent criminals, and not murderers, rapists, or others considered a danger to society.

Alejandro García Padilla. Source: Facebook.

The administration says this move will save as much as US$100,000 per year, per inmate, due to the excessive medical costs associated with caring for these individuals. It won’t be an automatic out for all criminals over 60, however. In order to qualify, inmates over 60 must have completed at least 10 years of their prison sentences, five years for those over 65 years of age.

For once, I agree with the governor. However, I don’t think he goes far enough. Given the island’s fiscal situation, the governor could expand the clemency to include many more inmates.

What about non-violent drug offenders?

The US Department of Justice just announced new rules that will do essentially the same thing for those who have served at least 10 years, but without imposing an age restriction.  From Fox News:

Deputy Attorney General James Cole outlined the changes, which include six separate criteria inmates must meet to be eligible, on Wednesday morning.… inmates must have served at least 10 years of their federal sentence and not have a “significant criminal history.” They must be “non-violent, low-level offenders” with no significant ties to major gangs, have a record of good conduct in prison and have no history of violence.

Finally, the process will be open to those who likely would have gotten a lesser sentence if convicted of the same offense today.

Drugwarfacts.org claims that, as of 2012, roughly half of the 200,000 federal prison population were incarcerated for “drug related offenses.” While its not clear how many of these inmates would be considered “non-violent,” assuming its half of that figure, then nearly 50,000 prisoners could be released as a cost saving measure.

Out of date and overzealous anti-drug laws have led to convictions and sentences for the possession of a green leafy substance, a powder, or even dots on a piece of paper that make Communist China look lenient when it comes to incarceration. I make no secret about opposing the war on drugs, but at this point during the US financial crisis, it’s time for us all to make some tough decisions. Releasing non-violent offenders could save the United States and Puerto Rican taxpayers a bundle, while keeping prison space available for those who truly deserve to be there.

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