Thursday, 25 April 2019 12:22

EDITORIAL: First Step Act is a step in the right direction

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A bill recently introduced in the North Carolina legislature would allow judges to use discretion when sentencing defendants facing drug charges.


The North Carolina First Step Act mirrors federal legislation, passed last year and signed into law by President Donald Trump, that eases mandatory minimum prison sentences and gives those convicted credits for being well-behaved or taking rehabilitation classes, the Carolina Journal reports.

Republican state Sen. Bob Steinburg of Chowan County, himself an advocate for criminal justice reform, is the primary sponsor of the bill.

According to Steinburg, 25 percent of the state’s prison population is imprisoned for drug offenses. Not stealing. Not killing. Not fraud.

A quarter of those in a cage are there for the nonviolent activity of having a substance that some people don’t like.

While there is a correlation between the use of some drugs and crimes with actual victims — like stealing from others to be able to support a habit — just being in possession of a certain substance should be no crime at all.

Some people get drunk and hurt and kill others, but this country decided a long time ago, following the unsuccessful experiment of Prohibition, that alcohol shouldn’t be illegal.

In many of the state’s drug cases, Steinburg said “treatment would probably be the answer, and not incarceration.”

“Are you a user who needs help, or are you pushing drugs? Are you part of an organized ring? If that is the case, then I have no pity for those individuals, and this bill is not to address those folks,” he said. “These are people who are addicted. Who are ill. Who need treatment … And they’re not going to get that treatment in the prison system.”

In fact, things are liable to be tougher for them back on the outside.

If an individual has a felony conviction for possession of a drug, be it pills or marijuana, it will be more difficult to find employment and he or she could resort to real crimes, like larceny and robbery, just to make ends meet.

We agree with Steinburg and believe that First Step is a step in the right direction to dismantling draconian drug policies.

There’s only one problem: the bill has been languishing for more than two weeks in the Senate Rules Committee.

The joking saying about the Rules Committee is that’s where bills go to die.

Nonviolent people do not belong in cages.

No one has to right to tell you — under the threat of force — what substance you can or can’t put in your own body. Not us. Not unelected bureaucrats. Not elected politicians.

But if you do become addicted and need help, a prison cell is the last place to get it or expect it.

We urge the Senate Rules Committee to revive the First Step Act, the rest of the General Assembly to pass it and Gov. Roy Cooper to sign it.

It could make a positive difference in the lives of thousands of North Carolinians — and isn’t that a worthy aspiration?

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 25 April 2019 12:43