Policy Options to Minimum Mandatory Sentencing Essay
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Policy Options to Minimum Mandatory Sentencing Essay
Running head: POLICY OPTIONS 1
POLICY OPTIONS 3
Policy Options to Minimum Mandatory Sentencing
Florida International University
Recommendation for the Abolishment of the Minimum Mandatory Sentencing
Mandatory minimum sentence is a statute of criminal law of the United States. It provides that a convict has to serve a minimum jail term before he may be considered for release. It was established to provide for uniformity of judgments in criminal cases. However, multiple problems have been associated with its implementation. They include the denial of a judges’ discretion in criminal cases, discrimination of African Americans, potential for radicalization, overcrowding in prisons, and heavy burden on the taxpayers in the sustenance of the prisoners.
To overcome the problems associated with the statute, several options are explored. They include prison sentencing, probation, imposition of fines, community service, and diversion. An analysis of each of the options confirms that they solve the problems associated with minimum mandatory sentencing. As such, the policies are recommended to replace the mandatory minimum sentencing.
Context and Importance of the Problem
Minimum mandatory sentencing is a United States’ Criminal law statute that violent criminals and convicts of serious crimes are slapped with. The statute provides that a convict has to be sent to jail for a specified minimum period of time. After the time period, the convicts qualify to be released.
Common crimes for which convicts serve the sentences include drug peddling and robbery that involves violence. The statute is meant to provide consistency of rulings by limiting judicial discretion. Further, the rationale for the policy is to punish the offenders of some acts deemed heinous before they may be reaccepted into society. Many people view the policy as an effective way of discouraging potential criminals from engaging in crime. Indeed, they attribute any reduction in crime to the statute.
However, a close scrutiny of the policy presents some serious problems that result from the implementation of the policy. One such problem is the inhibition of judicial discretion (Larkin, & Bernick, 2014). It has the consequence of denying the judge the power to listen to a case and judiciously hand the convict a proportional sentence. In some unfortunate incidences, the judge is forced to hand a convict the sentence even though he is convinced a more lenient sentence. At other times, a convict who played a major role in the execution of a crime is handed the same sentence as a character that played an auxiliary role. In such a case, justice is served discriminately as a result of the statute.
Other than the limitation of the power of the judge to make judicial rulings, the statute is accused of resulting to unwarranted discrimination of the minority groups in many nations. In the United States of America, for instance, virtually all researches on drug peddling have linked white Americans to the menace. However, the largest proportion of convicts serving the minimum mandatory sentence due to drug related charges are African Americans (Casell, & Luna, 2011). The observation confirms that the convictions are skewed against some groups of people.
The finding confirms that the statute’s intended purpose of achieving consistency in punishment of serious convicts hardly materializes. The impartiality may be attributed to financial strengths of the different racial groups. The whites are generally wealthier and may, thus, maneuver their way out of the effects of the law. Any policy that leads to impartiality of race needs revisiting. So is the case for Mandatory minimum sentencing.
The other serious problem associated with the policy is that it potentially leads to the radicalization of criminals. As earlier stated, a judge may rely on the policy to hand the sentence to an undeserving convict. While the judge may be aware that the convict does not deserve the sentence, his hands may be tied (Cardozo, 2010). Once sentenced, the undeserving convict may feel unfairly targeted by the law. Such an observation would go against the principle of the law- the service of justice.
Once a convict feels that justice was not served, a feeling of rebellion may potentially set in. He may serve his entire sentence but upon being released, it would be expected that he shall engage in a crime of greater magnitude than the one he had engaged in previously. From the discussion, it is clear that the policy potentially leads to the tendency of convicts to engage in crimes of higher magnitude instead of correcting them to become responsible and well-behaved citizens. For prevention of the tendency to engage in crime among former convicts, the act that gives force to minimum mandatory sentence should be repealed.
Another problem that is directly linked to minimum mandatory sentencing is overcrowding in prisons. It has been mentioned time and again that the statute has sent undeserving convicts to jail. Some of the convicts even deserved sentencing on probation terms. Others could have served shorter time periods owing to their mistakes. However, the statute prescribes a fixed jail term for any victim. The result is high population of prisoners in correctional facilities. When the facilities hold more prisoners than they can effectively accommodate, the available resources are extensively overstretched.
The overstretching potentially poses health risks to the prisoners. For instance, there commonly occur outbreaks of water-borne diseases. Besides, respiratory ailments such as tuberculosis quickly spread among the prisoners. Many inmates have lost their lives as a result of the ailments. Even though prisoners are confined to prisons to receive punishment for breaking the law, they should be protected from incidences that may endanger their lives. The solution to the problem of congestion in prisons can be served by the erection of more prisons. However, the government may not be having enough resources to undertake such a capital intensive project. Further, even if resources were available, other infrastructural projects may be prioritized over increasing the number of prisons. As such, the real solution to the problem lies in the repeal of the law that gave effect to the mandatory minimum sentence.
Another serious problem exists as a result of implementation of the mandatory minimum sentencing. The high population of prisoners implies a heavy burden to the taxpayers. As long as prisoners are confined to prisons, they have to be supplied with the necessities of life. They include food and clothing. Even though the prisoners undertake activities in service of the government, it may be observed that the revenue generated for the government by such services may not be sufficient for the sustenance of the unusually high number of prisoners. The government is, therefore, forced to go back to its coffers and get cash to sustain the prisoners. It is worth noting that the cost is transferred to the taxpayers.
The worst bit is that quite often, the expenditure on prisons does not lead to the achievement of the purpose of correcting the convicts. If the minimum mandatory sentence was to be abolished, the number of inmates would significantly go down. By extension, the cost of maintaining prisons would be reduced. As such, the money previously spent on prisons would be put to infrastructural development or other projects that improve the living standards of the citizenry. In general, the abolishment of the statute potentially leads to more meaningful of taxpayers’ money.
Policy options and Research
Many policy options exist as alternatives to minimum mandatory sentencing. The very obvious one is the prison sentencing. It involves the consideration of a case and passing of a judicious sentence by a judge based on the evidence presented and the participation of the various suspects. If a suspect is convicted of a crime, the judge decides the sentence that corresponds to the crime executed (Easton & Piper, 2012). The judge exercises the freedom to apply any variations provided for in the law. Such variations may include handing the least possible sentence to a convict. Abolishment of the minimum mandatory sentencing and replacing it with prison sentencing presents the judge the opportunity to pronounce lenient sentence terms to crime convicts who he feels do not deserve to be considered major executors of a crime.
The other option would be probation. It has been pointed out that judges have watched offenders in petty crimes being sent to prison as a result of the application of mandatory minimum sentencing. However, abolition of the sentencing statute would grant the judge the power to sentence petty offenders on probation. Under the type of sentence, the convict would be slapped with demanding obligations while he is not confined to prison. For instance, he may be required to be reporting to investigative offices on weekly basis to be monitored easily. Many benefits are associated with the policy. One of them is the potential reduction of the number of prisoners and the associated benefits. Further, the lives of the convicts are not halted by confinement to prison.
The other policy option for dealing with the crimes is the imposition of fines. Left to consider cases and making rulings, the judge would potentially determine the criminal cases for which convicts may be fined. The fines may vary with the level of participation of the convicts (Easton & Piper, 2012). Alternatively, the judge may opt to slap petty offenders with considerably huge fines while the serious offenders are sent to jail without any fine. Besides, both petty and serious offenders may be slapped with fines after which they should be closely trailed to avert any possibilities of engaging in crime. If we base our argument on the premise that many convicts may raise the money for payment of fines, only few convicts would be sent to prison. As such, the benefits outlined earlier as a result of few imprisonments may be realized. Further, the convict is made to remain in society instead of withdrawing him through confinement to prison walls.
The other alternative is community service. In the absence of the minimum mandatory sentence, a judge may sentence a convict to offering services for the community without a pay for having committed an offence (Petersilia & Reitz, 2012). Community service would ensure that the convict is adequately trailed to avoid a situation where he goes into hiding. To achieve considerable punishment to the offender, the judge may pass community service in addition to fines or restitution. Either way, benefits would be realized in that the offenders would not be withdrawn from the community. Further, radicalization may never occur among such convicts as they may feel that the sentence has an aspect of fairness. Besides, the number of prisoners would remain considerably low, making it possible to realize the benefits of fewer prisoners.
Another option may be the diversion of the criminal cases. The diversion would lead to dropping of the cases. The importance of the procedure is that it helps suspects in a criminal case to drop the tag of criminals. The policy would work to the advantage of suspects who never took part in a crime to be granted their freedom and avoid the undesirable tags of criminals(Petersilia & Reitz, 2012). It would also work contrary to the minimum mandatory sentencing by preventing the radicalization of convicted but innocent citizens. Further, it would help to avoid high number of prisoners.
Minimum mandatory sentence was introduced with good intentions of combating crime and introducing uniformity to judgments involving criminal cases. However, the problems associated with implementation of the policy seem to outweigh the benefits. One of the problems includes the reduction of the discretion of the judge. Further, the policy is seen to apply impartially among different races. Furthermore, it potentially leads to radicalization of innocent convicts due to the pain of suffering for a mistake they never did. Moreover, it causes overcrowding in prisons due to the high number of prisoners. Overcrowding leads to health problems. At times, it causes death of prisoners due to the spread of respiratory disorders. With high number of prisoners, huge sums of the taxpayers’ money are channeled to their sustenance. The money could have been used on projects that impact on the lives of the people.
To overcome the challenges posed by minimum mandatory sentencing, several options exist. They include prison sentencing, probation, fines, community service, and diversion of cases. Many, if not all, of these fines are informed by a realization that the levels of participation in crimes vary. In addition, it could be that the inclusion of a person in the suspects’ list was mistaken identity or oversight.
An analysis of the options to mandatory minimum sentencing presents us with insights into the benefits of each option explored. All of the options take care of the innocent suspects and petty offenders in crimes. They also address many of the problems associated with minimum mandatory sentencing. As illustration, prison sentencing presents benefits to petty convicts as it allows the judge to consider lenient terms for the convict. As such, the role of the judge is respected, fewer people are sent to prisons, radicalization is avoided, and racism may potentially be avoided. So is the case for the other policy options. As such, all of them may be recommended as alternatives to minimum mandatory sentencing. The mandatory minimum sentence may be done away with in order to avoid the problems associated with its implementation. Abolishment may only call for a repeal of the law that gives effect to the statute.
Cassell, P. G., & Luna, E. (2011). Sense and sensibility in mandatory minimum sentencing. Federal Sentencing Reporter, 23(3), 219-227.
Cardozo, B. N. (2010). The nature of the judicial process. Quid Pro Books.
Easton, S., & Piper, C. (2012). Sentencing and punishment: The quest for justice. Oxford University Press.
Larkin, P., & Bernick, E. (2014). Reconsidering mandatory minimum sentences: the arguments for and against potential reforms. The Heritage Foundation.
Mauer, M. (2010). The impact of mandatory minimum penalties in federal sentencing. Judicature, 94, 6.
Petersilia, J., & Reitz, K. R. (Eds.). (2012). The Oxford handbook of sentencing and corrections. Oxford University Press.
Policy Options to Minimum Mandatory Sentencing Essay
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