Prison populations in Connecticut and around the country swelled in the 1990s because of harsh sentencing laws passed to combat a crime wave linked to crack cocaine. The latest drug menace is the deadly opioid fentanyl, and Congress is once again being urged to take a hard line to protect the public. An emergency order made fentanyl a Schedule 1 controlled substance in February 2018. The Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues Act would make the classification permanent.
The Schedule 1 designation makes apprehending and prosecuting fentanyl traffickers easier, but the SOFA Act has as many critics as it has supporters. These critics say passage of the bill would disproportionately affect poor and minority communities just as draconian crack cocaine sentencing laws did decades ago. In a report released on Dec. 18, the Drug Policy Alliance asks lawmakers and law enforcement to consider alternatives to harsh punishments.
The New York City-based nonprofit organization criticizes law enforcement in its report for treating drug users as criminals rather than victims, and it takes aim at Congress for not addressing the urban poverty that it believes is the root of the nation’s drug problem. A report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission suggests that the SOFA Act would have little impact even if it is passed. The report reveals that only 16% of the individuals convicted on fentanyl trafficking charges in 2016 knew what kind of drugs they were transporting or distributing.
When they represent individuals accused of committing nonviolent narcotics offenses, experienced criminal defense attorneys may suggest that prosecutors consider penalties that are geared toward rehabilitation. Attorneys may recommend reducing criminal charges and ordering probation when their clients have not been in trouble with the law previously and were arrested for acts that are now either legal or decriminalized in many parts of the country.