Mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws influence on nation, communities
Mandatory minimum sentences have not only destroyed the lives of offenders by taking away their freedom and forcing them to serve excessive prison sentences, but they have also drastically affected the nation as a whole as well as local communities.
Federally subsidized programs that help to pay for school, police and fire departments that benefit communities are being cut as a result of budget shortfalls-all in an effort of to keep up with the skyrocketing costs of housing inmates.
Costs to house an inmate
Today, there are roughly 2.4 million inmates in U.S. prisons-a majority of whom are nonviolent offenders. Taxpayers pay $21,000 to house just one inmate in a minimum security prison per year. That number jumps to $33,000 per inmate serving a sentence in a maximum security prison.
Along with the costs, many prisons are simply running out of room. According to Attorney General Eric Holder, many federal prisons are nearly 40 percent above capacity. And, unfortunately, half the inmates are serving sentences for drug crimes no thanks to the mandatory sentencing statutes.
Bringing awareness to the public about specific instances of unfair sentences has, fortunately, forced Washington to sit up and take notice.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder stated in a public conference the DOJ’s plans to circumvent these mandatory sentencing laws. He outlined proposals for federal prosecutors and judges to follow in order to evade handing down such punishments.
For instance, Holder encouraged federal prosecutors to strategically charge low-level drug offenders with offenses that don’t fall under the mandatory minimum sentence statutes so they can avoid serving life behind bars.
Unfortunately, there are limits to the DOJ’s authority. Only Congress has the power to repeal such laws. However, civil rights advocates have encouraged President Obama as well as state governors to utilize their executive clemency authority to commute many of these unjust sentences.
Likelihood of repealing minimum sentencing laws
It remains to be seen whether Congress will take measures to repeal these unreasonable mandatory sentencing laws passed several decades ago.
Given that the U.S. prison population is four times higher than it was in 1980 and imprisons five times more inmates that other similar Western countries, it is possible.
Seeking criminal defense assistance
For now, offenders facing potential drug charges are encouraged to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help mitigate any serious penalties or fixed prison sentences.