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Monday, May 14, 2012

Mandatory Sentencing

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Mandatory Sentences Effective or Waste of Money?


In the 180’s a crime wave swept over American cities. The public and politicians began to complain that offenders were being released before serving terms that were long enough. The states wanted to send a clear message If you do the crime, you will do the time. State legislatures responded by enacting mandatory sentences “a sentence stipulating that some minimum period of incarceration must be served by people convicted of selected crimes, regardless of background or circumstances” (Cole, 00 p. 7). As a part of this “the judge may not consider the circumstances of the offense or the background of the offender, and may not impose sentences that do not involve incarceration” (Cole, 00, p. 7). These mandatory prison sentences are used most often when the crime is of a violent nature, for recurrent criminals, drug offenses, or when firearms are used. These laws have become increasingly popular and are frequently used for drug offenses. Some arguments for and against the use of mandatory minimums are usually seen pertaining to issues such as punishment, fairness, deterrence, and justice. To some proponents of these laws, “the certainty and severity of mandatory minimums make them better able to achieve incarceration’s goals than more flexible sentencing policies” (Caulkins, et al., 17). According to them, those goals included punishing offenders and keeping them from committing more crimes as well as deterring others who are not in prison from committing similar crimes. Those against worry that “mandatory minimums foreclose discretionary judgment where it may most be needed, and they fear mandatory minimums result in instances of unjust punishment” (Caulkins, et al., 17). Some examples of these mandatory sentencing laws are “three strikes” or “habitual offender” laws that force judges to give a fixed sentence. Some lawmakers believe that these harsh, inflexible sentencing laws would be seen as a means of deterring others from becoming offenders. The purpose of these laws was to punish the high-level, violent offenders. Are these laws working or are they simply another waste of funds that could be used in better ways?


“Most mandatory sentences were designed as weapons in the drug war with an awful consequence we now live in a country where it’s common to get a longer sentence for selling a neighbor a joint then for sexually abusing her” (Cloud, 1). This makes no sense; violent criminals should be seeing the longer sentences. How are these sentences serving as a deterrent? It seems as if it is better in the long run to commit a violent offense, you will serve less time. Some who were once proponents of these sentences are now opposing them. A Princeton professor, John DiIulio Jr., wrote a defense of mandatory sentencing laws in 14 titled “Let ‘Em Rot” now point out “that more young, nonviolent, first time offenders are being incarcerated” and states that “they won’t find suitable role models in prison” (Cloud, 1). Sending young offenders away for lengthy sentences where they will serve and interact with other violent individuals increases the chance they will get out and continue to commit more crimes, maybe even more violent ones. With these mandatory sentencing requirements judges and prosecutors are prevented from “offering leniency to juveniles, even when they believe rehabilitation is possible” (Court TV.com, 001).


According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the Rand Corporation found that these types of laws “have had little significant impact on the crime and arrest rates” (Drug Policy Alliance). They also state that according to the Uniform Crime Reports, states without these laws had the lowest rates of index crimes and the highest rate of index crimes were found in the states with these types of laws (Drug Policy Alliance). This doesn’t seem to prove the initial idea that these policies will serve as deterrents; in fact, it seems to show the opposite.


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Depending on the state, it costs anywhere from $8,000 to $55,000 per year to lock up a prisoner. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws have contributed to America’s prison population and this has caused, from 187 to 18, an increase in state spending on corrections by 0 percent (Drug Policy Alliance, 001). Currently more than “0 percent of all criminal defendants plead guilty”, as the sentences get harsher, “fewer defendants will plead guilty” (Constitutional Rights Foundation, 17). This means more defendants will be going to trial and this in turn will clog the courts and cause another increase in spending. With more offenders being sent to prison and these individuals sentenced to serve longer sentences, the prison population will continue to increase. More prisons will be needed due to overcrowding and that means more money will be used for building them. This doesn’t seem like an effective use of tax dollars.


With tougher economic times some states are now rethinking that costly lockup strategy. The need to close budget gaps may not be the right reason to change the rules but it is a driving force behind it. “Eliminating mandatory minimums for the least-dangerous offenders is helping to free up space in overcrowded prisons to ensure that violent criminals remain locked up” (USA Today.com, 00). Michigan eliminated minimum sentencing, this move is “expected to save $41 million a year and lead to the release of more than 1,100 inmates, some sentenced to 00 years for non-violent offenses” (USA Today.com, 00). Washington also enacted a law that reduces sentences for minor drug offenses. “saving $8 million annually in prison costs. The state is funneling some of that money into drug-treatment programs” (USA Today.com, 00). According to an article titled Let’s Repeal Mandatory minimums, a Gallup survey of 50 state and 4 federal judges belonging to the American Bar Association “found that 8% were in favor and 0% opposed” the federal mandatory minimums for drug offenses” (Kopel, 1). If some states are changing these laws and the majority of judges are opposed to the laws why are they still an issue?


It’s true that reducing crime is a concern to all and deterring crime by punishing offenders with long, harsh sentences seems like an easy way to accomplish this goal. But are these mandatory minimum sentences even fair and do the satisfy justice? It seems by the information provided that these laws create a never-ending cycle of increased spending. Increased sentences create more offenders taking their chances in court, backing up the system, overcrowding the jails and generating the need for more and more money to be spent. The overcrowding in the prisons mean more and more prisons will be needed. It’s true, crime needs to be reduced, but there has to be a better and less costly way to do it.


References


Caulkins, J. P., Rydell, C. P., Schwabe, W. L., & Chiesa, J. (17). Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Throwing Away the Key or the Taxpayers Money?. Retrieved October , 00, from Rand Publications http//www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR87/


Cloud, J. (1, February 1). A Get-Tough Policy That Failed. Retrieved October , 00, from http//members.aol.com/digasa/stats.htm


Constitutional Rights Foundation.. The Challenge of Violence. Retrieved October 5, 00, from Constitutional Rights Foundation http//www.crf-usa.org/marketing/violence.pdf


Court TV.com. (001, May 18). Recent murder trials sparks debate over Floridas juvenile system. Retrieved October 6, 00, from Court TV.com http//www.courttv.com/trials/brazill/051801_ap.html


Drug Policy Alliance. (001, March). Mandatory Sentencing. Retrieved October 10, 00, from Publications and Library http//www.drugpolicy.org/library/factsheets/mandatorysentance_factsheet_library.cfm


Kopel, D. (1). Lets Repeal Mandatory Minimums. The National Law Journal, 15. Retrieved October , 00, from Independence Institute http//ii.org/SuptDocs/Crime/Lets_Repeal_Mandatory_Minimums.htm


USA Today.com. (00, June 0). Easing mandatory sentences requires sound solutions [Editorial/Opinion]. Retrieved October 6, 00, from USA Today.com http//www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/00-06-0-edit_x.htm





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