Mandatory Minimum Sentences
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Applying Marxist theory to the issue, the study demonstrated that mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders constitute a major effort on the part of state and national elites to bolster and maintain their control over the lower classes. As the changes wrought by the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s seemed to give some historically marginalized groups increased powers, and as the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s questioned the established structures that had long governed American society, the corporate media and leading politicians eagerly exploited public fears of supposedly unprecedented crime waves. Portraying themselves as heroic protectors and defenders of the public good, legislators across the nation moved to aggressively implement mandatory minimum sentences and other policies allegedly aimed at curbing growing crime. Not coincidentally, the vast majority of those who were subjected to these new policies were members of the same historically disenfranchised groups whose recent acquisition of certain rights and powers had been the cause of such alarm.
Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines require defendants successfully convicted of a crime to be sentenced to a minimum length of time in prison.
Here are a few facts regarding them:
- They eliminate judicial discretion in the determination of punishments for particular crimes.
- In cases involving mandatory minimum sentences, judges cannot reduce the sentence for any reason.
- Juries determining guilt or innocence are often not informed of the mandatory sentence in order to prevent sentencing requirements from interfering in their decision.
- Mandatory minimum sentencing was initially developed by Congress and applied to the use and possession of marijuana.
- California's "Three Strikes" rule is one example of a mandatory minimum sentencing requirement.
Support for the Marxist assertion that legal policies aim to protect and preserve the privileges of national elites to bolster and to maintain control over the lower classes is nowhere more evident than in the recent fate of the radical school of criminology that aimed to promote alternative views of American criminal justice. Despite their obvious strengths, many of the empirical and theoretical analyses provided by this school were rejected or downplayed by the criminology profession, in university programs, and by the media. Instead, a relatively new "criminological Right" has recently gained increased influence, advancing even further the notions that crime is in no way caused by societal of structural factors, and that the most effective approach to the problem is an unmitigated emphasis on deterrence and incapacitation. In this environment even the liberal focuses on the effect of political matters, human rights concerns, and justice issues have been increasingly marginalized in professional and scholarly criminal justice and law enforcement programs in favor of perspectives that staunchly favor the criminal justice industry and an ideological focus on individual accountability instead of on social and structural factors.
Mandatory minimum sentences are a controversial topic. Advocates for mandatory minimum sentences believe they provide a deterrent mechanism. Rational individuals evaluating the decision to commit a crime should be less likely to act if they believe their conviction will generate a severe penalty. Mandatory minimum sentencing also promotes fairness because all criminals committing a particular crime receive the same punishment. However, opponents of mandatory minimum sentences believe judges should be granted full control over the sentencing process. They criticize the process' exclusion of extraneous factors or personal testimonials in the sentencing process. Opponents also believe that deterrence efforts should focus upon improving the capture rate of criminals than punishing those caught.