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Pros And Cons Of Sentencing Guidelines And Mandatory Minimum Sentences

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Autor:  anton  23 April 2011
Tags:  Sentencing,  Guidelines,  Mandatory,  Minimum
Words: 581   |   Pages: 3
Views: 1934

The United States Sentencing Commission is responsible for sentencing policy in federal courts. In 1980 they reformed the federal sentencing. The intent was to provide determinate sentencing. Determinate sentencing is a fixed period of incarceration without the possibility of parole, but time served can be reduced by accumulating good time. “Coinciding with the development of determinate sentencing has been the development of sentencing guidelines to control and structure the process and make it more rational. Guidelines are usually based on the seriousness of a crime and the background of an offender: The more serious the crime and the more extensive the offender’s criminal background, the longer the prison term recommended by the guidelines.” (Segel & Senna 2006). These guidelines were designed to eliminate judicial discretion and get tough on crime.

Mandatory minimum sentences are another method that was designed to limit judicial discretion while maintaining a “get tough on crime” approach. Mandatory sentences are sentences where all people convicted of certain crimes will be punished equally with a set minimum prison term. I believe the intentions were good when these reforms went into place. I think the intended purpose was to get tough on crime, eliminate bias on the part of the judge, to make criminals think twice about breaking the law, and provide equal punishment to all criminals who commit the same crimes. Unfortunately these sentence guidelines do not allow a judge to take into consideration the first time offender, differentiate the deviance level of the offender, and it does not allow for the judge to tailor a punishment to each individual case. The “drug war” they were trying to control with these sentences has had a backfire effect. The drug lords they were trying to stop are not the ones being affected by the sentences; it is the nonviolent, low-level drug users who are overcrowding the prisons as a result of these sentences.

I think that mandatory minimum sentences are a good idea for certain crimes. “Recently, the N.H. Legislature passed a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for convicted child molesters. The law, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2007, has drawn considerable attention throughout the state.” (Lenz 2006). I do not think that nonviolent, low-level drug offenders should further clog up the overcrowded prisons, but instead be sentenced to community based alternatives.

Because of cuts in many state budgets, and overcrowded prisons due to mandatory drug sentencing, lawmakers are facing a financial crisis. Many states have begun to use alternatives to imprisonment for drug offenders -- usually called "drug courts" -- in which defendants are sentenced into treatment programs, rather than jail. In states where these drug courts have been established, officials are finding this approach to be a more effective way of approaching the drug problem. Research shows that drug court alternatives are not only more cost-effective than prison sentences for defendants who commit non-violent crimes; they help reduce the rate of defendants who return to a life of crime after completing the program. (Montaldo 2007).

Hopefully due to the budget cuts and overcrowded prisons all states are faced with, more states will follow suite and begin to use alternatives as a first option when sentencing drug offenders.


Lenz, M. (2006). Lawyers weigh in on changes to law. The Exeter News-Letter. Retrieved on January 10, 2007 from www.seasoastonline.com/news/exeter/08222006/nhnews-x-sentencinc0822.html

Montaldo, C. (2007). Mandatory drug sentencing laws. About: Crime/Punishment. Retrieved on January 10, 2007 from www.crime.about.com/od/issues/i/drug_sentence_2.htm

Siegel, L. & Senna, J. (2006) Introduction to Criminal Justice p. 399

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