Mandatory Minimums

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Pages: 6

The United States is in the middle of a prison crisis. “From 1980 to 1997, the national correctional population rose from 1.8 million to 5.7 million, an increase of 217 percent. During the same period... the number of prisoners (rose by) 271 percent.” (Mackenzie 2001). The leading cause of this uptick in the prisoner population has been the implementation of mandatory minimums to fight a ‘war on drugs.’ Mandatory minimums are laws that require judges to give minimum sentences for specific violations. While not all related to drug crimes, the vast majority target drug related offenses in some way. These charges can be anything from a minimum ten years of prison for possession of crack cocaine (“The New Crack Law”, 2010) to ‘Three
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The FDA was not established until 1906, and the first national bill that regulated drug sales did not pass until 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act (“Harrison Narcotics Tax Act”, 1914 2015) (Lesser 2014). Before the twentieth century, crimes were usually viewed as “offenses against individuals (intentional torts) rather than as offenses against "society," the king, or the state.” Benson (2014) argues that the criminal justice system, however, has had a paradigm shift from victim justice-where crimes are committed against others, and punishment usually involves making the victim ‘whole’ again-to a criminal justice system where the federal government punishes people for breaking regulations regardless of victims. This shift began during the middle of the Industrial Revolution. People began living in closer proximity to one another, so if a person became addicted to a drug it was considered to be society that was the victim. The federal government would then step in on behalf of society (Marchal 2011). As time progressed the regulations of the city began to be implemented uniformly throughout the country. The United States had accepted the idea of imprisoning people for victimless …show more content…
Browne (2010) argues that prisoners are a modern day slave class. After the repeal of slavery, the United States still required a cheap labor force, to make up for this, the idea of a ‘chain gang’ was introduced. ‘Chain gang’ is a term that refers to a group of prisoners that have been sold for labor purposes by the state. Prisoners would be forced to work at far lower wages than that of free citizens, however this meant that the cheap labor supply of the United States was inexorably linked to the inmate population. In order to maintain a low cost work force, “A new set of laws called the Black Codes emerged to criminalize legal activity for African Americans” (Browne, 2010). As time passed, the morality of the chain gang was challenged and by the 1950s the practice had been legally abolished. However there was a loophole, prisons could still force inmates to work so long as they were paid. Minimum wage laws however do not cover prisoners, meaning that prisoners can be paid well below minimum wage. “The average statewide rates (for prison labor) range from $0.17 to 5.35 per hour… (Because of this) well over 600,000, and probably close to a million, inmates are working full time in jails and prisons throughout the United States”