This story about a woman who escaped from prison, but 32 years later has now been caught, illustrates the insanity of tough sentencing against low-level drug offenders. According to the story, the then 19-year-old woman made some typical mixed-up choices to use heroin, and pleaded guilty believing it would help her at sentencing. Instead, the judge bushwhacked her with the max--20 years. She decided she couldn't take it and with the help of friends, escaped. She apparently went straight, was successfully married for 23 years and lived on false ID.
She's not the first, nor the last to get the treatment that the court gave her. One comparison for context that my friend Roberto reminded me of is the case of Sarah Jane Olson--of Patty Hearst kidnap fame. She was eligible for release after 7 years after the murder of a cop to which she was an accessory.
Why does this happen? A few observations: Draconian punishments do not work on people caught up in addictions. They are not usually able to respond rationally, even if they want to. But politicians responding to public fears apply tough rules anyway because we feel good about it.
Secondly, while drug use certainly opens a panoply of ever worsening consequences, the basic user or addict should be treated with alternative sentencing that addresses the root problem--out of a desire for long-term public safety and the redemption of the person. We don't do ourselves any favors by locking these kinds of users up for decades where they are virtually guaranteed to come out worse and with far greater "issues" than when they first arrived.
The woman who was recently caught and now is in custody and separated from her family, clearly demonstrated that she had the potential to clean up her life. How many more like her are rotting in jail at an annual average of $24,000 per person in taxpayer funds?