The criminal justice system is a fundamental part of the corrections system, working well towards ensuring that there exists a comprehensive system to deal with crime in the country. Though differing from one state to the other, these individual systems work in their respective jurisdictions; cities, counties, state or federal towards the reduction of crime, the elimination of criminal elements from the streets and ensuring the rehabilitation of offenders into better people. The criminal justice system, like any other good thing, is not proof of fault. Law enforcement, courts, defense attorneys, prosecution, and corrections, its five components are often criticised for their work at countering and addressing the issue of crime in the American society. This paper explores the controversial issue of the mandatory minimum sentences, why such guidelines need amendments, and how such change should be implemented.
Through the sentencing reform act of 1984 (Ronald et al 46), Congress sought to come up with a comprehensive crime control act whose mandate was to address the differentials at dispensing justice within the criminal justice system. This act aimed at reducing the obvious and unwarranted difference in availing justice, ensure that there is heightened certainty and uniformity in the system and correct past common patterns associated with giving leniency for certain groups of heinous offences. The expected impact from this has not yet to been fully realised amid a huge cry for reforms especially targeting the issue of mandatory minimum sentences.
The mandatory minimum sentences offered by courts, although meant to bring about uniformity, drive the exact opposite. These sentences, given to the wrong people are a source of inequality and a form of injustice. Petty criminals such as first-time drug offenders have often found themselves forced to spend a considerable amount of time behind bars together with hardened criminals. These minimum sentences do not give a clear distinction between offenders such as drug peddlers, addicts, or individuals that just have a few ounces of the drugs in their possession. The application of these mandatory sentences appears to be highly related to the race from which an individual hails, where whites are more likely to be given below minimum sentences compared to the non-whites. This disparity thus indicates the degree of discrimination in the justice system.
Such minimum sentences have contributed considerably to the number of young people facing jail time in American jails. In addition to this, it has led to the increase in the number of underage individuals facing time in prisons for low-level drug offences, killing their self-esteem and forever carrying the tag of a former jail-bird. This tag pushes the society to stigmatize against such a young man, in turn causing him to lose chances at college, white collar jobs and an opportunity to earn a decent living. Continual discrimination often breaks such an individual and within no time, crime begets of him again and prison becomes the only place he can find comfort.
The structure of the mandatory minimums also lacks the distinguishing characteristics important to allow them to distinguish between defendants convicted of the same offense. As such, it is the norm to find defendants with similar offences but differentiated by mitigating and aggravating factors receiving the same form of sentencing. This is entirely different from the structure of the federal guidelines that gives clear distinctions between such individuals. This thus gives another unintended effect of these minimums, creating an unwarranted uniformity for certain crimes.
The mandatory minimum sentences need amendments so as to craft punishments that would be deemed to fit the offence. Such amendments will allow for less incarceration, promote the establishment of better re-integration mechanisms as well as advocating for better, smarter solutions to the issue of crime, that have the greatest impact on the society. This in turn drastically reduces the number of persons, especially the young that would have faced long jail times due to first time, petty offences. Reduced minimum sentences together with alternative re-entry plans reduce the amount of money allocated to penitentiaries as more and more people find their way there. Such monies would be re-allocated to other important causes.
To realise these changes, a petition to the government is important (Courtless 3), to show exactly how such minimum sentences are taking a toll in the community; the incarceration of a huge number of young petty offenders, the psychological torture associated with discrimination during re-entry into society, the lost education and job opportunities, failed re-integration and finally a probable death sentence. Following such a submission, Congress creates an independent commission, with confirmation from federal judges, Senate and individual experts in criminal justice to look into such sentences. This committee is mandated to look through and determine appropriate sentences for criminal offences already committed. These deliberations form the basis from which Congress would simultaneously reduce, increase or altogether remove certain perceived unwarranted sentences. Congress would also provide the necessary guidelines to be used in the system to guide how offenders are handled.
Accordingly, to have substantial changes in the discriminatory minimum sentencing laws, for the sake of the young offenders, the non-white community and fairness, Congress needs to establish proper guidelines for sentencing, allowing for the incorporation of alternatives to rehabilitation and jail time, and continuously providing oversight to such commissions mandated to determine these sentences. Through this, Congress can assist the federal government to mould a better generation without compromising on the quality of justice offered.