In an effort to stem the tide of certain crimes, mandatory sentencing laws have been passed at local, regional, and national levels. Instead of allowing judges to sentence convicted prisoners based on their own observations, these sentencing laws mandate that certain lengths of prison sentences be served. A classic form of mandatory sentencing would be a “three strikes” law which would mandate a life sentence for a third serious felony.
There have been some advantages seen with this shift in sentencing, but there have been some disadvantages as well. Is mandatory sentencing a practice that is working?
What Are the Pros of Mandatory Sentencing?
It keeps convicted prisoners away from society for longer periods of time.
Mandatory sentencing means that having the option for parole or a reduced sentence is removed. This means offenders are kept away from the general population base and this enhances the overall safety of everyone in a community.
It provides a deterrent to specific crimes.
If someone knows that they might receive a mandatory 10 year sentence because they are receiving illicit drugs, then there’s a good possibility that they will think about the consequences of their actions. Not everyone will decide to step away from a crime, but there are some that will because they feel like it isn’t worth the risk.
It creates a system of justice that is actually fair.
Mandatory sentencing means that different people who commit the same crime will get the same sentence. There is no arbitrary sentencing that allows for reduced prison stays or lower fines. There is just one sentence per crime and if found guilty, that’s what can be the time that is expected to be served.
What Are the Cons of Mandatory Sentencing?
It creates a larger prison population.
The United States as one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world today, ranked #2 behind Seychelles, and the nation isn’t even at 100% capacity. This means that not only are more people expected to break the law in the US, but the prison system is funded so that it can support those hypothetical people as well.
It eliminates the individual nature of due process.
Although the crime might be the same, the circumstances behind why two people commit a crime can be very different. Sometimes people may commit a crime and not even realize it. There is no leniency with mandatory sentencing. If you’re guilty, it doesn’t matter what the purpose behind a person’s actions are. They get a specific sentence.
Most mandatory sentences aren’t for serious crime.
There are mandatory sentences today for illegal gun ownership that can stretch beyond 3 years. In some states, having 10 bullets in a magazine instead of 7 carries a mandatory sentence. Even truancy has mandatory sentences in some communities. The effect is that more serious offenders get better chances of experiencing freedom when compared to offenders with mandatory sentences.
Mandatory sentencing may be a good practice, but it is a practice that needs to be implemented fairly and effectively. By evaluating the advantages and the disadvantages of this system, we can come together to create a more effective system that is able to hand out a more effective form of justice.