The criminal justice system in our country is far from perfect. For many political leaders, families, and advocacy groups, mandatory minimum guidelines are among the first aspects of the system that desperately need attention.
Essentially, mandatory minimum sentencing laws identify certain crimes and provide for punishments that are inflexible and do not consider any of the specific circumstances associated with the crime. For instance, even if a non-violent drug offender poses no threat to society, he/she still won’t be released until the mandatory minimum prison time for the offense is met.
There are many problems with mandatory minimums. Here are a couple of examples:
Ignoring that Addiction is at the Root of the Offense
The mandatory minimum laws often keep drug addicts in a prison for years. Their underlying addiction problems are never dealt with and once released, they are susceptible to committing the same drug offenses they were committing before their incarceration. Only now that they have a previous conviction, they will be more likely to receive additional jail time than the treatment that they truly need.
Aside from the dangers of being exposed to other, more violent prisoners, inmates typically suffer from cramped conditions and overcrowding in correctional facilities. The prison population explosion has led to an enormous cost to tax payers. The money it takes to run these prisons increases as the number of occupants grows, which means a significant portion of taxpayer money goes to these systems instead of being allotted to other important sectors or needs of the state, such as education.
Mass incarceration of our citizens arising from the implementation of harsh and haphazard minimum sentences has resulted in disproportionately harsh punishment for relatively minor, victimless offenses, as well as the marginalization of large percentages of our population. As a society, it is time we tempered our lust for punishment with compassion and pragmatism. It is time we abandoned the now discredited notion that mandatory sentences have a place in our justice system.