Disparities in Incarceration:
The Toll of Minimum Mandatory Sentences
Since 1979, the United States has witnessed a sobering increase in its prisoner population. Likewise, records of the nation’s incarcerations indicate severe social and racial disparities. Incarceration resulting from minimum mandatory sentencing and parole/probation restrictions are the chief factors in such incarcerations; minority communities, therefore, are struck by devastating social and economic turmoil. This essay seeks to review much of the criminal justice reform of the twentieth century, in hopes that past legislation might direct us toward optimum future solutions. Ultimately, the evidence suggests that our criminal justice system requires a dramatic decrease in the scale of imprisonment. Our political goals must include lessening the lengths of current prison sentences, releasing hundreds of thousands of citizens serving unnecessarily long terms, and altering sentencing laws and guidelines so that racial disparities diminish (and also so that former prisoners have greater access to the nation’s workforce once released).
Keywords: crime, criminal justice, incarceration, sentencing, parole, probation, racial disparity
Disparities in Incarceration: The Toll of Minimum Mandatory Sentences
Between 1979 and 2008, the prisoner population of the United States has skyrocketed from roughly 350,000 to 2.3 million (Santos 2012). Among the arguable causes for this increase are the nation’s minimum mandatory sentences, increasingly severe parole/probation requirements, and various alterations to the criminal justice system (frequently related with the “Get tough on crime” policy, as well as the “War on Drugs” campaign). The United States incarcerates over 700 citizens per 100,000 – a figure outweighing that of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain combined; meanwhile, since the 1980s, the incarceration of...