Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

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The film, 13th, directed by Ava Duvernay, offers a powerful and informative insight into the history and complexities of mass incarceration in the United States. Through interviews and historical references, I learned more about the dangers mass incarceration has had on society as a whole and especially on people of color. An issue that I found especially interesting was mandatory minimum sentencing, which included life imprisonment without a chance of parole (LWOP). Mandatory minimums are long sentences and they have increased over the years to cover more crimes.
“Determinate sentences are used when the goal is retribution” (Clear, et al) and in the 1980’s, these mandatory minimums were promoted as a way for government “to demonstrate emphatically
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I found that to be a shocking and horrifying statistic! Americans carry on as though slavery in the U.S. was a terrible thing and is in our country’s past but with this statistic we see that there is something still very wrong with the way people of color are treated in society and especially in the criminal justice system. Racial bias can be seen within the creation of many of the laws that required mandatory minimum sentencing. For example, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 placed a mandatory sentence of 5 years for possessing 5 grams of crack cocaine. It would take one hundred times as much powder cocaine (5oo grams) to receive a mandatory sentence of 5 years. These laws have had a disproportionate effect on the black community because the majority of crack users are black and the majority of cocaine users are white. (sentencing project pdf). Biased laws like these resulted in African-American defendants being subject to mandatory minimum penalties at sentencing most often, in 60.6% of drug cases carrying such a penalty, followed by Hispanic (41%) and white defendants (36.3%) (sentencing project pdf). The effects of this racial bias is still seen today-though Blacks constitute only about 13 percent of the U.S. population, as of 2009, Blacks constitute 28.3% of all prisoners serving life …show more content…
We’ve learned from our previous readings that the American corrections system exists “for the management of individuals who have been accused or convicted of criminal offenses” (Clear, et al). In different periods of our history, American society has placed different priorities on how and if the the criminal justice system should deter crime, rehabilitate, and/ or punishment offenders. Part of the struggle I think has been trying to decide what type of punishment suits the crime. Mandatory minimums robs courts, prosecutors, and judges of the ability to do the jobs they were trained in. Such a rigidly-structured system is inhospitable ground for considerations of proportionality – the notion that a punishment should fit the crime – and individualization, the notion that the punishment should fit the offender. (peer art) Sadly, nearly half of all federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses – half of whom are first time offenders! (peer art) Even judges saw mandatory sentences as unjust because it incapacitated them so they were unable to weigh all the information and treat each person like an individual during sentencing because they were required to dish out these ‘one size fits all’ mandatory sentences- 62% of judges surveyed in 2010 felt that mandatory sentences across all offenses were“too high.” (sentencing proj