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Most of the rhetoric we are hearing from political candidates about the war on drugs obscures a significant fact of which voters need to become aware. It has to do with the severity of the federal sentencing policy for drug offenders. The issue is further obscured by the incredible inconsistency between enforcement and sentencing policies of the federal and local governments.

The news media report that local drug offenders are often going scot-free for lack of jail space. The federal justice system is at the other end of the spectrum. There, nonviolent drug offenders routinely serve more prison time than child murderers and other violent criminals in Utah and most other states. Sentences are inordinately long and oppressive. They are unmitigated by either a parole system or executive clemency. The feds abandoned the parole system back in the Reagan years. It was once a way to forgive a penitent convict or soften an unduly harsh decree. Executive clemency, represented by presidential pardon or commutation of sentences is available but has not been used in the past four years.It is a national scandal that the U.S. government has virtually no program for rehabilitation of its mounting prison population. Convicts are considered "throwaway" citizens, unworthy of redemption. The business of the federal justice system is to crush prisoners, not just punish them. The case for lengthy sentencing is that it is supposed to send a message of deterrence. How can that message get through when there is such a disparity of enforcement and sentencing policies? And if the message does get through, what does it say about fairness and justice?

Burton R. Stringfellow

Salt Lake City