Critical Analysis – The Failure of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

free essayFor the last several years, a debate on the use and harm of mandatory minimum sentences has been raised to find an appropriate solution to the issue of current American criminal justice and prison systems. The approach of using mandatory minimum sentences is ineffective because it does not follow the aim of incarceration – to provide the adequate punishment. On the contrary, it increases the rate of repeat crimes. Initially, incarceration is a kind of punishment purposed to demonstrate to the offender that it is the price for the misconduct and that to leave the place of incarceration, one should rethink his/her behavior. However, the state makes people stay in prison for a long time, ignoring the specifics of misconduct and the appropriateness of incarceration as punishment for it. For example, mandatory minimum sentences are given even for little offences to individuals without criminal history. Thus, “In 2012, the U.S. Sentencing Commission… found that 53 percent of federal offenders are classified under Category I, which means they have little or no criminal history” (Pye, 2015). Drug use and mandatory minimum sentences prove that this approach creates disproportionality between the scope of crime, its consequences, and punishment since “in theory, mandatory minimum sentences enable the government to “move up the chain” of large drug operations” (Bernick & Larkin, 2014). The low-level criminals are suggested to report about high-level criminals, and it is worth emphasizing the ‘in theory’ part. However, in fact, low-level criminals are punished severely, while serious criminals that create criminal schemes are not punished. Slifer (2014) claims that Bureau of Justice Statistics confirms high recidivism level among ex-prisoners, as 68% of 405,000 released in 2005 were arrested again within three years, while around 77% were arrested within five years. According to Johnson (2011), the statistics over 2007 demonstrates the similar state of prison system: 15 states of 33 reported that recidivism rate increased around 30% by 2007. It proves that incarceration is ineffective and even dangerous, as many of the once-convinced criminals become engaged into different public offenses and crimes.

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The mandatory minimum sentences create a number of social and, in turn, economic problems due to further unemployment, marginalization, and poverty faced by the criminals and their families. Incarceration is a verdict for socially insecure individuals that lack education, medical support, and a well-paid job. After they finish serving sentences, they are not provided even with the low-paid job they had before. The families of incarcerated individuals suffer due to the lack of financial support, and children do not see their parents. Inside the prison, there exists a subculture that determines criminals’ thinking, behavior, and conduct. After serving their sentence, criminals have difficulties with getting rid of skills and strategies they had in prison. As a result, the members of prison culture cannot adapt to the life outside prison walls, and they become marginalized. Unemployment and marginalization lead to poverty that cannot be managed. Thus, mandatory minimum sentences lead to the sufficient loss of human resources, which leads to the serious economic and social harm to society.

Mandatory minimum sentences lead to prisons’ overcrowding, which requires building new prisons that are managed on the expanse of taxpayers. Thus, this is the main issue regarding mandatory minimum sentences debate – society seek for the way to save the money of taxpayers. According to the statistics, around $80 billion a year is spent to maintain inmate population, and this amount has nearly doubled for the last years even though the rate of violent crimes declined at 47% (Harris, 2016). The USA has the more prisons and inmates than any other country, which makes the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on supporting the prison complex enormous. It is obvious that there is a variety of crucial social and economic problems in American society that require this money, which is why spending money on ineffective prison system is a waste of time and sources.

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Mandatory minimum does not solve the issue of crime, but it maintains the existing social order that leads to the rise of crime rates. For instance, the individuals convicted of drug storing and consumption are put into jail instead of being provided with medical help. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry shared his experience of prison policies management that resulted in the decline of repeat crimes, absence of excessive expanses, and shutting down of three prisons in Texas in 1968. He said that he had headed treatment programs for individuals who would not receive needed medical assistance in prison (Pye, 2015). His administration focused on strong parole and prohibition programs (Pye, 2015). The issue of drugs offences and incarceration demonstrates that the criminal justice system is not aimed at promoting justice: instead, it supports particular political and economic interests as well as high crime rate.

In conclusion, debaters on mandatory minimum sentences effectiveness agree that this policy is ineffective and it must be replaced by completely different approach. This policy leads to great expanses, promotes unemployment, poverty, marginalization, and other negative social phenomena that harm American society. Mandatory minimum sentencing is a harmful way of control and regulation, as it does not provide appropriate solution but maintains crimes on high level. The policy that will be directed at justice instead of punishment is needed to cover current social problems.