The year was 1986 and Len Bias, a University of Maryland standout was drafted by the Boston Celtics. Two days after he was drafted he died of a cocaine overdose.
The death caused panic and uproar across the nation and even sent shock waves through the halls of Congress who responded by passing mandatory sentences for drug crimes, a set of laws which continue to be controversial to this day.
United States district judge John Gleeson, now regrets that those laws were ever passed. Gleeson told NPR: “People in Congress meant well. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it just turns out that policy is wrong. It was wrong at the time.”
He explains how these laws take judging out of the picture and set harsh unjust penalties for minor drug crimes.
These sentences don’t seem to have any long term social or economic benefit.
The judge isn’t alone, efforts to reform these laws have been going on for decades. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) report that one out of every 28 children has a parent in prison. Many of those offenses are minor drug crimes which require jail sentences under antiquated laws.
What do you think? Do these harsh penalties have their place or should they be changed? Check out the video below on a personal story of mandatory minimums, a case not so uncommon in the justice system.