Director's Message

This letter was published in our latest "print" edition.
This newspaper is mailed into almost 500 prisons.

 "If judges and the public speak with a united voice . . ."

Another federal judge came out publically against the drug war recently. Robert W. Pratt, U.S. District judge for the Southern District of Iowa added a new voice to growing judicial dissent when he wrote:

"On Dec. 17, 1998, nine of my fellow citizens appeared before me in Davenport for sentencing on drug charges. The cost to U.S. taxpayers for incarcerating one person for one month in federal prison is $1,910.17. Based on the nine sentences I had to impose under the largely mandatory Federal Sentencing Guidelines, taxpayers were handed a bill of more than $2 million.

"There are approximately 650 federal judges across the United States responsible for sentencing drug offenders. If sentencing nine offenders in Davenport, IA., on one day cost more than $2 million , the effect of 649 other judges doing the same thing across the nation on a daily basis is mind-boggling."

What made this dissenting opinion unusual was that it appeared in the Judge's local newspaper where he went on to describe the now common sentiment, that the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. And the Des Moines Register published it. All 1,719 words of it.

He is speaking out and he knows his stuff.

"How did it happen that we built a system that incarcerates our fellow citizens for inordinately long periods of time, wastes huge amounts of taxpayer dollars, ruins lives, and does not accomplish the stated purpose, i.e. to end the illegal consumption of drugs?"

A drug war history followed, an accurate assessment with plenty of the usual warnings, but the tone was still unusual. Then he said something that I can't remember any judge saying before. It was an invitation of compelling proportion when he concluded by writing:

"If judges and the public speak with a united voice, perhaps the other two branches of government will listen. We must encourage our elected officials to consider immediate reforms to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to make them less costly and more fair. If we don't speak up, who will?"

Will we? You know, speak up with the judges. We had better-they are taking to the limbs now, we ought not to leave them out there alone.

My heart aches each time a prisoner calls and in a round about ways asks "how long?" I don't know how much longer it will be before this hideous tide rolls back. I can say with certaintly that the tide is turning now, though. How long? I've said this before and I'll say it again, I think that a lot of it is up to us.

My love to you all,

"I have only been a federal judge for a short time. In that time, however, I have learned that sentencing offenders under the guidelines is an emotionally draining experience that requires consideration of the crime and past conduct of the defendant. Consideration must also be given to the effect of guideline sentencing on our country. What have we done by creating a system that many federal judges have rejected as unfair, inefficient and, as a practical matter, ineffective in eliminating drug use and drug-related crime?"

-US District Judge Robert W. Pratt