Drug offenders' kin and friends stage protest

November 25, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

About three dozen relatives and friends of convicted drug offenders marched outside the federal courthouse in Baltimore yesterday, protesting the mandatory minimum prison sentences that give judges little discretion in imposing punishment in drug cases.

"I don't see where it's fair for first-time offenders," said Kim Dishman, who was pushing her 6-month-old daughter around the oval march route in a stroller and holding a sign above it reading, "I want my daddy home."

Ms. Dishman said her fiance, the girl's father, was sentenced to 87 months after he "got caught up in a bad thing." She observed, "Murderers can get out on parole when first-time offenders can't."

William Parks of the city's Violetville area acknowledged that his wife was part of a cocaine conspiracy, but said she got more jail time than did her drug bosses.

Each of the penalties was handed down by U.S. District Court judges who are required by federal law to impose the mandatory minimum terms -- without parole -- on drug offenders, the protesters complained.

Other demonstrators held signs saying, "Mend the Scales of Justice -- Now" and "Give 1st Offenders a Second Chance." They chanted, "Let the Judges Decide" and "Families for Justice."

Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which organized the march, said protests were being held in Baltimore and 15 other cities to ask Congress to repeal laws that require long mandatory sentences.

"If anyone is going to benefit from a period of incarceration, that occurs in the first year," said Ms. Stewart, whose brother is serving five years for growing marijuana in his home. "It makes no sense to keep non- violent offenders in prison five, 10, 15 years or longer."

An assistant to Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke read a statement from him supporting the group's call for revoking the federal laws requiring the mandatory sentences.

"These sentences, imposed without mercy and often cruel in their longevity, are contrary to the American principle of 'equal justice under law,' " the statement read.

"Some non-violent offenders, incarcerated under the mandatory minimums, are serving disproportionately longer sentences with no noticeable benefit to the rest of society."

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