The Corrections system is Broken. Mandatory Minimum Sentences are a bad idea. Total Incarceration does not work. – So Says Two U.S. Supreme Court Justices.
Two United States Supreme Court Justices, Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy, gave testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee on March 23rd, 2015.
Justice Kennedy called the corrections system in many respects “broken”. He found lawyers to be ignorant on this corrections or punishment aspect of the justice system.
“I think, Mr. Chairman, that the corrections system is one of the most overlooked, misunderstood institutions we have in our entire government. In law school, I never heard about corrections. Lawyers are fascinated with the guilt/innocence adjudication process. Once the adjudication process is over, we have no interest in corrections. Doctors know more about the corrections system and psychiatrists than we do. Nobody looks at it. California, my home state, had 187,000 people in jail at a cost of over $30,000 a prisoner. compare the amount they gave to school children, it was about $3,500 a year. Now, this is 24-hour care and so this is apples and oranges in a way. And this idea of total incarceration just isn’t working. and it’s not humane.“
Prison overcrowding can be linked to minimum mandatory sentences. Such sentences which mandate minimum prison terms by law according to the type of crime charged, give judges no discretion to lower the sentence based on specifics of the Defendant or the crime. Justice Bryer back in 1998 called for the elimination of such sentences because they don’t allow for exceptions based on those individual circumstances, and opined as they “set back the cause of Justice”. Justice Kennedy has previously blamed such sentences for the growing and overcrowded prisons back in 2003. Over the past twelve years, federal prison populations have dramatically risen with incarceration rates in the United States among the highest of any country in the world.
The war on drugs also has a huge role prison overcrowding. In 1970, 16% of prisoners were there for drug crimes. By 2014 the number of prisoners currently in Federal Prison jumped to over 50%.
“Too many people go to too many prisons for far too long for no good law enforcement reason.” Said United States Attorney General Eric Holder in 2013.
We can do better. As a country built on fairness and Justice, we must do better.
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