Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Policies Debate
Mandatory minimum sentencing means an offender must be held in prison for a specified minimum period, as opposed to giving the judges the discretion to determine the length of punishment. For instance, a defendant convicted by a court of law for possession of cocaine powder amounting to a half a kilogram or more must be sent for at least five years in prison. However, these sentencing laws contribute to overcrowding in prisons and racial disparities in conviction. Examples of these policies include mandatory sentencing and the three strikes laws.The US sends averagely 100,000 more individuals to prison, just for drug-related offenses than the EU as a whole does for all kinds of offenses, even though the EU has 100 million more citizens than the US. When compared to other states, the US also has more citizens in custody than other democratic states, two-thirds of all the convicts being Hispanic or African-Americans. According to Turner & Dakwar (2014), around eighty percent of the US citizens imprisoned for drug-related crimes have been the most common form of crime in Carolina’s prison admissions. This essay does not dispute that mandatory minimum punishment reduce the level of drug-related offenses, but seeks to question the fairness and the impacts of imposing such policies on minorities in the US.
First, three strikes laws are some of the unfair laws imposed against drug offenders. These laws require individuals who have been proven guilty of committing serious or violent offenses and two other initial convictions to be subjected to mandatory life imprisonment. The main aim of three strikes laws is to increase the severity of punishments granted to individuals convicted of more than two violent or serious offenses (Turner & Dakwar, 2014). This type of law has been used severally to prosecute drug-related crimes. Despite the fact that this law aims at preventing crime perpetrators from committing further crimes by holding them in custody, it has been administered unfairly to the American minorities.
In administering three strikes laws, racial bias has been rampant in the administration of criminal justice. The African-Americans have explicitly been overrepresented in all the statistics of criminal justice, incarcerations, arrests, victimizations, and executions. This imbalance results from the “War on drugs.” Despite the fact that the drug abuse among the white and black-Americans is comparable, more blacks and other minorities than the white Americans have been arrested and charged with drug-related offenses. Why? Turner & Dakwar (2014), explains that this is because the police and other law enforcers find it easier to concentrate their operations in the inner neighborhoods of the city, where drug dealing occurs than stage more difficult and costly investigative operations in the suburbs, where drug dealing happens. This is the reason why the three strikes laws have been applied unfairly to the minority groups.
To expound more on the above paragraph, the impartial application of this law started as early as 1995 Lamb (2015) reiterates that between 1995 and 2002 about 74% of individuals convicted as frequent offenders were African-Americans and more than 70% of the total drug-related inmates in 2002 in the US were blacks compared to the whites who were only 18%. The drugs and drug-related offenders that were imprisoned in North Carolina as at that time were even more disproportionately blacks than the total population of the prison. This shows that although the rate of drug use is similar among the whites and the blacks, the blacks dominate the prisons.
Also, many of the individuals that find themselves in jail under the three strikes laws constitute non-violent offenders. Initially, the primary aim of this law was to stop violent crimes (Lamb, 2015). However, the result has been that individuals with minor criminal histories like drug-peddling are being imprisoned for more extended periods than those who indulge in violent crimes. Apart from being unfair, it has also led to overcrowding in the prisons. The effect of this is that the taxpayers are forced to pay large amounts in taxes to foot the bill of prison expenditures. This is also unfair to taxpayers.
Another policy worth discussing is the mandatory minimum sentencing. When a crime is subjected to mandatory sentencing, a judge has much less discretion in setting the limits for the punishment, and if the offender pleads guilty for the crime, then the minimum sentence established by the law will be administered against the offender (Gilpin, 2012). Although this type of punishment is viewed as appropriate for severe and violent crimes, research has proven that 72% of the Americans agree that mandatory sentencing is not fair. They have an opinion that mandatory sentencing should be replaced with Probation and mandatory drug treatments for people found guilty of non-violent drug use.
Due to mandatory sentencing, non-violent drug abuse offenders have found themselves behind bars for life. This is unfair as these prisoners are fathers, mothers, and even caregivers. The effect is that children live as orphans back in their homes as their mothers, fathers or caretakers are imprisoned for life. They cannot obtain a quality education, healthcare, parental guidance and even moral encouragements. They, therefore, lose hope and live miserable lives.
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws are also unfair to the judges, as they cannot use their discretion to judge cases. The judges are restricted to the set minimums, hence cannot use financial, social, or mental status of the defendants to grant discretion while judging cases (Gilpin, 2012). The judges, therefore, operate as law machines, without any prudent opinions.
In a nutshell, going by the above analysis, it is clear that mandatory minimum sentencing policies like three strikes and mandatory sentencing are unfair policies which have been imposed partially on the minorities especially in the US.