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Mandatory punishment laws can extend to all types of crimes or only one. Minimum mandatory penalties are introduced with positive intentions, but this would not necessarily indicate that they are good policies since consequences are more relevant than the latter (Mauer 1). The main goal of this sentencing was to lower crime rates. According to critics of these rules, their effect on the legal system is unimportant as long as they represent the common benefit of avoiding serious crimes. However, it is challenging to prove a deterrent impact and to know whether any notable reduction in crime rate is caused by age crime curves, strong economies, strict laws or other factors that influence crime (Mauer 1). Furthermore, research shows that the legislation effect works best on individuals that have something to lose when punished. It is also known that offenders are deterred more by the fear of being caught as compared to the severity of the punishment they can get. As such, the overall influence of mandatory sentencing is less effective in combatting crimes especially war on drugs and the policy should be reconsidered.
In a paper written by American Civil Right Unions, it was argued that mandatory minimum sentences and restrictive convicting guidelines take away the judge’s discretion to tailor a conviction for it to suit a person’s situation of a particular offense (Bjerk 2). Henceforth, the traditional requirement granted by the 8th amendment that punishment should be proportional to the crime perpetrated has been abandoned by implementing these legislations. The outcome of using this policy is sentencing of many non-violence drug offenders unjustly in harsh prisons where they overcrowd and feeling them above capacity. This has proven to be true since inmates population in USA rose from 621,000 in 2000 to 744,600 in 2014 (Mauer 2). Notably, most of this offenders are those convicted of non-violence drug crimes. Adding problem to this predicament is the fact that this mandatory minimum sentencing that was designed to reduce racial inequalities that used to result from judges sentencing discretion averted the authority to prosecutors from the judiciary. According to the statute, prosecuting attorney possesses the power to plea bargain by offering accessed plea agreements that avoid the mandatory punishment. The result of this has been shown to be a disparity in sentencing outcomes based significantly on quality of defense attorney and race. These harsh sentencing guidelines coupled with the enormous amounts of dollars injected into enforcement to enable incarceration of criminals and expansion of prisons due to high rate of conviction has still failed to curb the use of drug, which statistically is always on the rise.
In addition, these laws raise severe concerns in excessively harsh convictions. They are also arbitrary since they are based on characteristics of offense, and they overlook aspects of the offender. In fact, according to the argument by American Bar Association, mandatory minimums are the significant reasons why the average sentence period in US has increased by three times after their adoption. America currently imprisons its residents at a rate of 5 to 8 times higher compared to European countries and 12 times higher than Japan (Bjerk 2). Interestingly about a quarter of the total number of individual sentenced in the world are imprisoned in US. As such, the group advocated for a repeal of the existing law to ensure that convictions are justifiable. The arguments further stated that rather than channeling more resources on enforcement of this legislation, the government ought to focus on allocating funds to developing alternatives to imprisonment such as intensive supervised treatment programs, drug courts and diversionary programs. Indeed, incarceration does not necessarily mean that the offender has been rehabilitated and there are higher chances that the criminal might revert to earlier ways after release.
Mandatory sentences also may lead to higher government expenses due to increased population in prisons (Elliot 1). Typically, a government must ensure that prisoners are clothed, fed and given access to medical care. In addition, it also has to higher extra staff to maintain law and orders as well as security in jails and prisons. As a result, massive amount of taxpayers’ money is allocated to prison department that could otherwise be used in healthcare, education and infrastructure development. Notably for the past decade a century, the US Congress has twice enacted mandatory minimum sentencing to fight the public fears about drug trafficking and abuse. Evidently, both times the laws failed to alleviate the problem. More concerning is the fact that the legislation caused other pressing issues such as skyrocketing spends on correction at federal and state level. In a study conducted by Vera Institution of Justice Center, researchers found that the total taxpayers’ costs of prison in 40 states that they examined were 13.9% higher than what was reflected in those states (Henrichson and Ruth 2). In particular, the actual cost was found to be 39 billion dollars. According to Vera, policymakers need to pursue better options such as modifying release and sentencing policies to cut the high cost of incarceration.
Further data shows that in a state like California, 8 billion dollars were spent in 2010 and the Connecticut went up by 34% over their budget corrections. It is also estimated that three-strike laws adopted by the state have caused it to incur 5.5 billion dollars for less than two decades of its implementation (Henrichson and Ruth 2. Moreover, this is only the prison cost other costs are often overlooked such as education, welfare and childcare will all show that it drains the economy. Also, the aging population because of mandatory minimum imprisonment rises, which further adds problems to the government because taking care of an elderly inmate is costly, compared to a young person. Typically, at an advanced age, people are less dangerous to public safety as they are less violent. Under the minimum sentencing law, prisoners have to finish their long sentences, which trump the objective of incapacitation of the most harmful criminals. For instance, in an analysis done by Kathleen Auerhan in 2002, the simulation model used forecasted that 80% of the California prison population could be potential incarcerated under the mandatory minimum sentencing law adopted by 2030 (Henrichson and Ruth 2. California State costs the government 69,000 dollars compared to young ones, which is 21000 dollars. Since most of the elderly inmate spends most of their productive life in prison the government have care for them after being released, which means more cost is incurred.
Indeed, the advantages of mandatory sentencing are outweighed by the negative impact they cause on the society in the long run. While their intended objective was to scare the criminals from offending and keeping the community safer, they have encouraged unjust convictions, overcrowding in prisons, racial inequalities and significantly increased cost of incarceration. A better approach to preventing crimes should be put in place to lower the ever-skyrocketing cost of jailing due to high incarceration rate, which has proved to be fruitless.
Bjerk, David. "Mandatory Minimums and the Sentencing of Federal Drug Crimes." The Journal of Legal Studies 46.1 (2017): 93-128.
Elliot, Kari G., and Kyle Coady. "Mandatory minimum penalties in Canada: Analysis and annotated bibliography." Ottawa: Department of Justice (2016)
Henrichson, Christian, and Ruth Delaney. "The price of prisons: What incarceration costs taxpayers." Fed. Sent'g Rep. 25 (2012): 68.
Mauer, Marc. "The impact of mandatory minimum penalties in federal sentencing." Judicature 94 (2010): 6.
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