Sentencing Reform

Are mandatory sentences too harsh?


A rash of federal and state laws in the 1980s and '90s — an era of crack cocaine-fueled violence and “tough-on-crime” rhetoric — introduced lengthy automatic prison sentences. In the laws' wake, many low-level nonviolent drug offenders have been locked up for long periods, contributing to prison overcrowding and state budget deficits. Putting young people behind bars for the majority of their lives as punishment for a youthful error is inhumane, human rights and civil liberties groups say. At least 30 states have rolled back their harshest laws, and several bipartisan proposals in Congress would relax federal sentencing mandates. Prosecutors contend the threat of mandatory sentences induces defendants to cooperate with their investigations of criminal networks and reduces crime. But reformers, including some prominent conservatives, ...

locked icon

Sign in to access this content

Get a 30 day FREE TRIAL

  • Watch videos from a variety of sources bringing classroom topics to life
  • Read modern, diverse business cases
  • Explore hundreds of books and reference titles