The decision on this person is easy


America’s criminal justice system is doing the right thing by steering more people convicted of narcotics offenses away from prison and into alternative programs like rehab and drug court. But there are always exceptions to this, and a big one is being debated right now in Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors have asked a judge to approve the release of a drug kingpin from the 1980s, Rayford Edmond III, who received a life prison sentence in 1990 at age 25. They contend that he has earned leniency for cooperating with police since the late 1990s. He provided information that led to the conviction of dozens of other drug dealers, according to The Washington Post.

It has been nearly 30 years since Edmond went to prison, and if informing on other dealers was the only element of his story, you could make a case for letting him out of his life sentence.

It should come as no surprise, though, that there’s a lot more to Edmond’s story, and it provides a pretty strong counter-balance to anything positive that he’s done to fight the drug trade.

For starters, his prison conversion to law and order was delayed. The Post reported that in 1996, while in a maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania, Edmond got an extra 30 years put onto his life sentence because he was continuing his involvement in the drug trade as an inmate. Only after that did he start talking.

A few simple statistics may be the best way to describe the size of Edmond’s business. At his peak, he was selling 1,700 pounds of cocaine a month. And court documents from his trial say that on busy nights, people who sold for him carried out 30 drug transactions every minute.

Though Edmond was young, he turned his drug trade into a multi-million-dollar criminal enterprise. He lived like a “Miami Vice” crime lord as well, traveling about Washington in a limousine with a chauffeur, handing out cash to strangers and even tossing out small bags of cocaine to watch addicts chase them.

Edmond and the people who worked for him obviously were doing business with willing buyers. But they caused plenty of damage.

The neighborhood where he did business was 95 percent black in the 1980s. The drugs and crime prompted its middle class to flee, and over the past three decades gentrification has greatly increased property values. Two-thirds of residents today are white.

More to the point, a woman who is a recovering cocaine addict had the perfect response to those who say Edmond has reformed and deserves a second chance.

At a sparsely attended community meeting to hear what the public thought about his potential release, the woman said the wrong people are being asked this question. “The people you should be asking are dead,” she said.

That’s the key point for any community: the drug trade has plenty of victims. Just ask those who have struggled with opioid addiction.

In the end, this is an easy criminal-justice decision. Get addicts into treatment and drug court. Teach small-time pushers how to do something legal. As for the ringleaders like Edmond, 30 years behind bars simply is not enough.