Mandatory Sentencing Essay, Research Paper
In recent years several mandatory sentencing laws have been put into motion. The original goals of the mandatory sentencing laws were to stop repeat offenders and to exhibit a “get tough attitude” on crime. These laws have not been working as intended, instead mandatory sentencing has led to some unfortunate consequences. Some of these consequences are overcrowding in prisons and less prison based rehabilitation. Mandatory sentencing laws do not narrowly target major drug traffickers.
Today there are 100 separate federal mandatory minimums located in 60 different criminal statues. An example of mandatory sentencing is New York’s Rockefeller laws which order terms extending from 15 years to life for nonviolent drug offenses. Five years ago in California the “three strikes “ law was passed sending people away for 25 years to life for a third felony conviction. The “three strikes” law is overcrowding prisons and weighing down the courts with appeals. Under the “three strikes” laws a violent first time violent offender may be let out of jail to accommodate a third time nonviolent offender. In 1993, 71% of all federal prisoners were non-violent offenders and in 1994, 92% of federal prisoners were non-violent offenders. The 1994 Crime Act requires offenders to serve up to 85% of their sentence. (Casa) The “War on Drugs” is nothing but a war on the “weak and those unable to defend themselves” (Cose). 95% of non-violent drug offenders who are getting out of prison are getting little to no redirection. As many as 75% of drug offenders released from prison will re-offend and be back in jail within four years.
Non-violent drug addicts are getting more time than murderers. These people have neither the desire nor the ability to become productive members of society. Rehabilitation programs are becoming scarce; the public money for these programs is being diverted into money for additional beds for the bulging prison population.
Mandatory minimums are resulting in a losing war on drugs and over crowding in the prison system. As of 1999 almost 1.8 million Americans are incarcerated. Seven times as many women since 1980 are incarcerated largely due to new mandatory sentences. (Cose) This means that thousands of children will be without mothers, and put into the system. America has reverted to locking up their problems. Overcrowding is not only a problem for the Department of Corrections (DOC) but also for the inmates. Overcrowding means less space and more violence between inmates. Overcrowded prisons also means overcrowded county jails, where state offenders will be held. Prisoners often complain of unbearably high noise levels, inadequate exercise and poor ventilation. This 1.8 million figure gave the “Land of the Free” the second highest confinement rate in the world, right behind Russia (Levitt). The criminal justice system needs to find another way to fight crime.
Mandatory sentencing laws state that a mandatory sentence must be imposed regardless of a person’s role in the crime or other mitigating factors. Prosecutors, not judges, have the discretion to decide what charge to bring; whether to accept or deny a plea bargain. Mandatory sentencing is defined as: a sentence determined by statutes and requiring that a certain penalty be imposed and carried out for convicted offenders who meet certain criteria. This definition should include required drug intervention, mental health treatment, and drug education with the possibility of early release if the prisoner successfully completes the programs.
Th fact that incarceration rates have tripled since the 1994 Crime Act and crime has not dramatically fallen, commentators have labeled the new confidence in the prison system as a policy failure. Commentators have recommended that there be a halt on building new prisons. They have also suggested that the criminal justice system look at alternative correctional programs, and/or decriminalization of drug offenses. (Levitt)
The United States needs to reevaluate their mandatory sentencing laws and find new ways of winning the “War on Drugs”. America should strongly consider reevaluating the two–million-prison population and take each crime and sentence into special consideration. America needs to give judges their discretion back in all cases and get rid of mandatory minimums. Also, the U.S. should stop using “one size fits all “ prison systems and seriously think about separate prisons for the drug offenders with mandated drug treatment programs. “The answer to these criminals problems can’t just be in prison” (Casa). America needs to deal with our problems not incarcerate them.
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