African-Americans are disproportionately affected by mandatory-minimum drug sentences, with blacks comprising nearly nine out of every 10 offenders sent to Maryland prisons on such terms, says a report quoted by the Baltimore Sun. The study by the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute will be discussed at a state legislative committee hearing today. The study urges moving toward a model that prefers treatment to incarceration. It notes that despite the racial disparity in sentencing, blacks and whites use drugs at similar rates. Maryland officials have acknowledged that drug use is a public health problem, and, the state has offered more treatment options to low-level offenders, said Jason Ziedenberg of the Justice Policy Institute.
Proposed legislation seeks to allow judges discretion in sentencing repeat offenders who commit certain drug crimes. Repealing the minimum-sentencing laws would allow judges to require treatment, particularly in the case of a low-level dealer who sells drugs to support an addiction, said Delegate Curtis Anderson of Baltimore. “Over the years, even though we have tried to get tough on drugs, we have not made a dent in people using drugs,” said Anderson. “We have locked up more people, made the sentences harsher, but we haven’t cut down on the problem at all. Maybe it’s time to try something different.” Republican Delegate Donald Dwyer disagrees, saying, “Jail time, to me, should clearly be a deterrent to crime. I personally do not support the idea that treatment alone is the answer. Many of the individuals who are involved in drug crimes are not only committing drug crimes, but they are also involved in breaking-and-enterings and theft. You still have victims who will suffer.”