End Mandatory Minimum Sentences

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FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) wants to eliminate federal and state mandatory minimum drug sentences for nonviolent, low risk drug crimes. Mandatory minimum drug sentences are set by Congress, and require automatic and fixed rate prison sentences for various crime. They take away discretion on minimum sentencing from judges who hear the criminal cases. There are many problems with mandatory minimum sentencing, hence federal and state mandatory minimum sentencing laws should be repealed and reformed.


With mandatory minimum sentencing, judges have no flexibility to show leniency where the individual circumstances may warrant. For example, under federal law, if a person is caught selling 280 grams of crack cocaine, he or she must receive a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, even if the judge is aware of mitigating circumstances, and believes that the sentence is too harsh. There is simply no room for discretion. Even judges are dissatisfied with mandatory minimums because they easily result in unfairness in sentencing.

Another problem with with mandatory minimum sentences is that they have resulted in an explosion in our national and state prison systems. During the last three decades, the number of people incarcerated in the United States has expanded dramatically. Many states have responded to the challenges of growing prison populations by building more prisons. Some states have been unable to keep pace with increasing numbers of prisoners, and have exceeded capacities on their existing prisons. In 2014, for example, 18 states had exceeded their existing prison capacities, and this led to overcrowding, increased maintenance costs, and skyrocketing state budgets to meet the demands of increasing prison populations.


Mandatory minimum sentencing - and the resulting increased population of incarcerated people in the US, and increased financial costs of prisons - would be justified if mandatory minimums could be proven to achieve greater public safety. But this is simply not the case. Many studies show that mandatory minimums are ineffective in benefiting public safety. Removing dangerous and violent criminals from the public through incarceration is a public benefit, but incarcerating and “warehousing” low-level, non-violent drug offenders does not increase safety. Because mandatory sentencing does not permit sufficient distinction among different types of offenders, it does not adequately promote public safety and is an inefficient use of state financial budgets.


When states across the country have reformed their mandatory minimum sentencing, they have benefited from both reduced incarceration rates and reduced crime. States that have effectively reduced incarceration and crime have focussed on repeal and on other areas to improve safety, such as post conviction reform, job- training and community re-entry of former prisoners. These efforts have paid off in reducing recidivism rates, and therefore have improved public safety. The state of Michigan, for example, repealed most of its drug related mandatory minimum sentencing laws after its studies showed that warehousing low-level non-violent offenders had only a minimal role in deterring the drug trade, and was too costly in terms of “prison beds”. After repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing, and focus on post conviction reforms, Michigan saved billions in tax dollars and reduced crime by 27 per cent in the decade following repeal. The state of Texas is another example; it saved 2 billion dollars by investing in prevention and community programs instead of building new prisons. Not only did the rate of incarceration fall dramatically in Texas, but crime also fell.


An important and critical role of our government is to protect all of us and to ensure public safety. Imposing mandatory minimum sentencing on non-violent drug offenders has been shown to be unjust, inefficient and a costly burden to taxpayers with little benefit in terms of protection or public safety. For these reasons, mandatory minimum sentencing must be repealed and reformed.


GET INVOLVED by telling your local representatives that minimum sentencing for low risk, non-violent drug offenders MUST be repealed. Exploding prisons costs MUST be brought under control. Efforts MUST be focussed on more proven avenues of reform, such as post conviction job training and re-entry programs for former prisoners. Get involved in this area of enormous importance to us all.

For more information on why mandatory sentences should be eliminated, go to www.advocate.famm.org and speak with your legilstaors on how you can help.

 



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