Mandatory minimums for controlled substances were first implemented in the 1980s as a countermeasure for the hysteria that surrounded drugs in the era (“A Brief History,” 2014). The common belief was that stiff penalties discouraged people from using drugs and enhanced public safety (“A Brief History,” 2014). That theory, however, was proven false and rather than less illegal drug activity, there are simply more people incarcerated. Studies show that over half of federal prisoners currently incarcerated are there on drug charges, a 116 percent percentage rise since 1970 (Miles, 2014). Mass incarceration is an ever growing issue in the United States and is the result of policies that support the large scale use of imprisonment on a sustained basis for social, political or economic purposes that have little to do with law enforcement. Drug policies stemming from the War on Drugs are to blame, more specifically, the mandatory minimum sentencing mandates on petty drug charges that have imprisoned millions of non-violent offenders in the last three decades. Since this declaration of war, the percentage of drug arrests that result in prison sentences (rather than probation, dismissal, or community service) has quadrupled, resulting in an unprecedented prison-building boom (Wyler, 2014). There are three main reasons mandatory minimum sentencing laws must be reformed: (1) They impose unduly harsh punishments on relatively low level offenders, leading to the mass incarceration epidemic. (2) They have proven to be cost ineffective fiscally and in crime and drug use reduction. (3) They perpetuate a racially segregated criminal justice system that destroys communities and discourages trust in the law.
The Smarter Sentenci...
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...more than twice the rate of white youth since 1980, even though a 2012 study from the National Institute of Drug Abuse found that white high school students were more likely to be drug abusers than blacks the same age (Knafo & Reilly, 2014). While the Smarter Sentencing Act does not address arrest disparities, it addresses the racially tinged sentencing disparities of drug laws. Studies show that as of 2002, over 80 percent of federal prisoners imprisoned for crack cocaine crimes were black (Whitaker, 2013). The expansion of the Fairness in Sentencing Act of 2010, however, would reduce the racially discriminatory disparity between crack and cocaine sentences, and allow thousands of offenders the chance for earlier release. The Smarter Sentencing Act would both address the long-standing racial injustice of drug laws, and work to decrease the federal prison population.
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