Originally published on Tue December 16, 2014 10:41 am
It seems long ago now, but in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, murders and robberies exploded as cocaine and other illegal drugs ravaged American cities.
Then came June 19, 1986, when the overdose of a college athlete sent the nation into shock just days after the NBA draft. Basketball star Len Bias could have been anybody's brother or son.
Congress swiftly responded by passing tough mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Those sentences, still in place, pack federal prisons to this day. More than half of the 219,000 federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.
Originally published on Tue December 16, 2014 10:40 am
The United States spends nearly $7 billion a year to operate a network of federal prisons that house more than 200,000 inmates. About half of them are incarcerated for drug crimes, a legacy of 1980s laws that prosecutors use to target not only kingpins but also low-level couriers and girlfriends. Multiple convictions for small-time offenses under those laws mean thousands of people are locked up for decades, or even the rest of their lives.