The United States continues to incarcerate more people than every other nation in the world. The U.S. contains just 5 percent of the world’s prison population, and yet there are currently 35 states that incarcerate more people than the population of entire countries. The mass incarceration of both American citizens and undocumented peoples, is a result of discriminatory sentencing set forth by mandatory minimum sentencing, three-strikes laws, restrictions on parole, and racial bias from prosecutors.
After the passage and implementation of the 1994 Crime Bill and the 1985 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, it imposed stronger prison sentences, increased mandatory minimums, three-strike laws, expanded the amount of and what constituted felony convictions, and continued the racist and failed War on Drugs. Both pieces of legislation led to a bloated incarcerated population. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, it provided funding for 100,000 new police officers and another $14 billion in grants for “community-oriented policing”. The number of police officers rose 28 percent from 1990 to 1999 despite the fact that crime had decreased by 10 percent from 1991 to 1994. The case of United States v. Booker (2005) upheld this practice by striking down the provision of the federal sentencing statutes that requires federal judges to stay within the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. This led to a decline in compliance with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and therefore, increased sentencing disparities based on race and geography. More specifically, Black defendants are receiving sentences that are 4.9 percent higher than white defendants and for those in the inner-city
Mandatory minimums are strict laws that determine the sentence you receive. In other words, if you commit a crime, you will get AT LEAST a set sentence that ranges from 5 to even 25 years behind bars or even more. This takes away discretion and leniency from one's judge or prosecutor because the law, rather than one’s remorse or growth determines how much time you receive behind bars. Instead, mandatory minimums took power away from judges, who are supposed to determine sentencing, and gave it to prosecutors who often use their power to charge indigent defendants, too often Black people, Indigenous people, Hispanic people, and other people of color with mandatory minimums. When faced with such harsh sentences, this practice forces defendants to take plea deals and confess to crimes they likely did not commit. Mandatory minimums have the goal of implementing fairness for crimes, but most of the time, these lengthy sentences don’t apply or fit to the crime at hand. For example, if a defendant was in possession of 5 grams of crack, it mandated a five year sentence while 500 grams of powder cocaine triggered the same sentence according to the ACLU. As many people know, crack was typically associated with the Black community despite white people using it at higher rates in 1991. In 1991, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 52% of white people reported using crack compared to 38% of Black people and 10% of Hispanic people. In 2009, the U.S. Sentencing Commission even found that 79% of convicted crack offenders were Black. As of recent, crack use among Black people is slightly higher rate than whites (4.5% of Black people to 3.9% of white people), according to the Federal Drug Use Survey (Table 1.31B -Crack Use in Lifetime among Persons…).
Three strikes laws are laws that, again remove sentencing discretion from judges and determine that if an individual commits three crimes, that they are beyond redemption and rehabilitation no matter their age, socioeconomic status, or mental health. Once an individual reaches a “third strike” like in a baseball game, the penalty for the crime committed requires the judge to impose a long prison sentence. Even if all three crimes are “petty crimes” such as petty theft, possession of small grams of drugs due to addiction, and other nonviolent crimes. The idea behind these kinds of laws is that ordinary or prudent people will not commit crimes or that they will deter crime because they will simply think about the more severe sentence that will result. However, the Scientific American states that this is not at all how individuals think at all. Mandatory life sentences do not offer any deterrent effect to crime and even result in more of a financial and social cost because instead of offering people rehabilitation services and education, we determine that they are irredeemable and need to be thrown behind bars for the rest of their life without taking into account their stories, background, or addictions.
Truth-in-sentencing laws (TIS), according to Restore Justice, are laws that limit the amount of time inmates convicted of certain offenses can earn off their non-life sentences. TIS laws break inmates into five separate tiers:
Day-for-day: inmates may up to one day off their sentence for each day served
60% TIS: Inmates must serve a minimum of 60% of their court-appointed sentence.
75% TIS: Inmates must serve a minimum of 75% of their court-appointed sentence.
85% TIS: Inmates must serve a minimum of 85% of their court-appointed sentence.
100% TIS: Inmates must serve their full sentence (100%) and are ineligible for any amount of time off due to good behavior or programming.
These truth-in-sentencing laws prevent opportunities for parole and other forms of early release by requiring inmates to serve their required time behind bars. By eliminating parole, this discourages inmates from taking advantage of educational and vocational opportunities and complying with prison rules that could allow for early release for inmates.
United States v. Booker (2005) resulted in striking down the provision of the federal sentencing statutes that requires federal judges to stay within the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and increased sentencing disparities based on race and geography.
Mandatory minimums are strict laws that determine the sentence you receive without regard to circumstance or other factors related to a specific crime and enforces a one size fits all narrative for all crimes.
When faced with such harsh sentences, this practice forces defendants to take plea deals and confess to crimes they likely did not commit, increasing the prison population
Three strikes laws are laws that, again remove sentencing discretion from judges and determine that if an individual commits three crimes, that they are beyond redemption and rehabilitation no matter their age, socioeconomic status, or mental health.
These truth-in-sentencing laws prevent opportunities for parole and discourage inmates from taking advantage of educational and vocational opportunities