By: Rueben Hasani
The US justice system is in need of reform on a lot of levels. One of the policies that needs to be looked at are Mandatory minimum sentencing rules on both the state and federal level. Mandatory minimum sentences were brought about in order to make sure that serious crimes (usually drug related crimes) were penalized consistently and seriously in all court systems. By 1994 some version of mandatory minimum sentencing policy existed in all 50 states (Bjerk, 2005). While the idea for mandatory minimums may have originally been good, the role that they play in our courts now does more harm than good.
One of the main reasons that these policies need to change is that they put too much of a restriction on judicial discretion. Mandatory minimum sentences really take away judges’ ability to do what they are supposed to do, which is judge. Mandatory minimums leave judges no room to account for special circumstances or individual situations that should be taken into consideration at the time of sentencing. We should trust our judges to make fair decisions on punishment for crimes and mandatory minimums take away judges ability to use their discretion. According to Mauer and Chesney-Lind (2002) in their book “Invisible Punishment”, the circumstances around which the crime was committed and the individual characteristics of the defendant should be considered when determining punishment. Mandatory minimums interfere with the ability of judges to give defendants the consideration they deserve. Mauer and Chesney-Lind (2002) also argue that this reduction of judicial power has damaged the entire criminal justice system because it takes away from the adversary process.
Another reason that policies regarding mandatory minimum sentencing should be changed is that they greatly increase the number of people in prison and extend the amount of prison time people get. This is expensive for taxpayers but the worst part is that they lead to more people being in prison, which causes all kind of problems for communities as is shown by Mauer and Chesney-Lind (2002) in their examples of “invisible punishments” that ex-cons experience.
The best way that mandatory minimums could be changed is by allowing judges to have more say in sentencing and allowing them to treat cases individually rather than attempting to make everything on-size fits all. By giving judges this power back, more people would be sentenced based on their specific situation and circumstances.
Mauer, M. and Chesney-Lind, M. (2002). Invisible Punishment. New York, New York: The New Press
Tags: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing