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Globally, the prisons in the US are the most populated. This population is majorly composed of drug addicts and peddlers, but not assassins as well as robbers as most people presume. Annually, several US citizens are ordered by the Justice System to serve prolonged mandatory terms in prisons because of drug crimes. The tough sentences recorded to date are designed to eliminate drug trading, but they have failed. Throughout the American history, the application of tough sentences to curb the peddling of illegal drugs has failed. The tough punishments are issued by courts through the application through the mandatory minimum sentence. A mandatory sentence is a minimum period of punishment legislated by the Congress that every juror is compelled to observe the law when issuing a decree, irrespective of the distinctive facts and condition of the accused or the felony. The impact of mandatory minimum sentences on regulating drug crimes are discussed in this paper beginning with the Boggs act of the 1950s to present mandatory minimums adopted by the government from the mid-1980s.
The Boggs Act: Congress Adopt Mandatory Minimums
History reveals that the Congress of the US has the norm that if it constituents raise complaints about certain crimes they react by ratifying harsh mandatory sentencing legislations. For instance, as early as in the seventeenth century, those who were found guilty of piracy were ordered to serve life sentences. Most of these past mandatory sentences are still available in the US records. Boggs Act is one of those distinctive laws that have been in American history. This Act collated punitive mandatory drug punishments in 1951 and was amended in 1970. This law has a history that can be used as good reminder for the proponents of tough sentences in curtailing serious crimes as well as drug peddling (Sullum 12).
The Boggs Act initially collated mandatory minimum verdicts for those holding or trading drugs. A study done by the Senate subcommittee responsible for investigating systematized felonies disclosed that drug addiction as well as peddling was rapidly escalating, especially among the youth. Consequently, the Congress endorsed the Boggs Act so as to combat the usage and spread drugs with tough minimum decrees and fines for offenders. A first-time violator was to serve a minimum of two-to-five years in confinement and a repetition of such a drug crime would make an offender to serve between ten to fifteen years in prison. This legislation considered both drug peddlers and addicts as similar criminals (Greenblatt 1-38).
The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was in charge of monitoring the implementation of this Act as well as other antinarcotics drug laws ratified in that era. FBN often associated the increasing number of young drug addicts to soft-hearted arbitrators. They stated that the young drug addicts needed lengthy incarceration, but not rehabilitation because they were incurable. The addicts were considered to be contaminating other individuals who were innocent of drug crimes. FBN claimed that public education would promote, not curb, the rise of drug use by youngsters (Sullum 12).
Four years later after the validation of the Boggs Act, the Senate subcommittee performed another investigation to check the peddling and usage of drugs in the nation. The results revealed how most of the senators had very little information about drugs. They consulted Harry J. Anslinger, the head of FBN, who associated the increasing incidents of atrocious felonies to the incipient trend of abusing marijuana among the youth. Eventually, the subcommittee stated that addiction was contagious (Davies 429-457). This meant that addicts that were not incarcerated or hospitalized spread the behavior to folks and friends. According to the study, the solution was mandatory treatment or imprisonment for individuals who could not be treated.
In 1956, the Narcotics Act was also enacted to assist in combatting the increasing number of drug felonies. The Act was even tougher than the previous Boggs Act. The minimum punishments for drug offenders were raised to a minimum of five years for initial infraction and not less than ten years for successive crimes. Furthermore, the legislation barred jurors from deferring sentences or enforce probation in circumstances where they had the impression that incarceration was unsuitable (Greenblatt 1-38).
Evidence Shows Mandatory Minimums Ineffective
The mandatory sentencing statutes that were enacted during Anslingerâ€™s era played a very minimal role in curtailing the abuse of drugs by among American youngsters. Throughout the 1960s, the country witnessed a rapid rise in the abuse of marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs also started being infiltrated into campuses (Todd, Michael, and George 387). The use of marijuana continued to increase and by 1967 it was already being considered by some youth as a part of lifestyle. Musicians openly recorded songs, which encouraged the use of lethal drugs such as marijuana (Davies 429-457).
When Richard Nixon came into power in 1969, there were millions of drug crimes being committed by the young Americans. Almost every student in the universities was under the influence of narcotics. Abuse of drugs was not only based in the urban areas but it had infiltrated to upper as well as middle level regions. These facts disclosed that tough sentences were not having any impact in stemming the spread of crime and even the experts became reluctant in introducing even stricter mandatory minimum sentences (Greenblatt 1-38). A huge percentage of judges, prison wardens and trial officers were already against the mandatory minimums. These events prompted the Federal lawmakers to seek for another solution. In 1963, John F. Kennedy formed a commission known as Prettyman Commission, which was mandated to investigate what was causing this rising trend in drug usage as well as how the harsh law was affecting the addicts (Batey 224-226).
The commission proposed that drug addicts should be rehabilitated and if the offense warranted imprisonment, then the punishment should be aimed at correcting the culprit instead of being punitive. The punishments should be suit the misdemeanor and the offense committed. The commission also observed that retributive sentences were not effectual in preventing the spread of drug felonies. Individuals who were already deeply rooted to narcotics were willing to take drugs even if they were to aware repercussion they would be exposed to-punitive penalties (Sullum 12). Apart from establishing the Prettyman Commission, the president used his authority to annul the Narcotics Control Act of 1956. Inmates who were serving lengthy terms for drug crimes were given commutations by the president. The Attorney General observed that the commutations improved the morale of the drug addict inmates and requested the head of the Bureau of Prisons to reassess cases with imbalanced penalties and forward to him cases that deserved favor of presidential leniency. Commuting individuals serving long penalties was an indication to the Congress that the existing harsh sentencing policies had to be amended (Greenblatt 1-38).
In 1969 when President Nixon came to power, combatting the spread of lethal drugs was one of his major goals. Nixon believed that the best way to counter drugs was through education and convalescence. Within a short period, Nixon through his Attorney General presented to the Congress a proposed bill that was intended to amend the policies regulating drug trafficking and abuse in America. These efforts led to the ratification of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. The Act altered governmentâ€™s attitude in addressing drug peddling as well as abuse. The core purpose for this law was to solve drug abuse through rehabilitation of victims, offering better instruments for executing laws against drug production and trading, as well as ensuring a sensible system for sentencing drug offenders. The law was able to terminate all the mandatory minimum drug penalties, except one. The remaining punitive law was for criminals who performed large scale drug trafficking that netted massive profits (Batey 224-226).
Members of the Congress agreed that tough sentences restricted judicial options since jurors shunned away from implementing penalties hence, denting the image of the law in general. Repealing 1956 Act was anticipated to overhaul the penalty structure and introduce a flexible scheme of sentencing that could allow jurors to issue verdicts that fit a particular offense. The Congressmen also agreed that Boggs Act that permitted life imprisonment, failed in stemming the flow of drugs into the country. They decided to only allow harsh punishments for proficient drug traffickers. Nixon endorsed the Act some days to midterm congressional polls. Coincidentally, all the congressmen who had supported the 1970 Act were reappointed except for one who had utterly disparate reasons (Batey 224-226).
Punitive Mandatory Minimums are Applied and Fail Again
The use of narcotics for leisure purposes continued to rise in the 1970s. The abuse of marijuana and heroin increased whilst cocaine developed as a stylish narcotic among the high class. Some youthful rock artists such as Janis Joplin lost their lives due to abuse of lethal drugs creating fears among some of the citizens that drug was becoming a grave problem in America. However, it was in the 1980s that people started to earnestly have a negative mindset on drugs (Sevigny 155-180).
In the beginning of 1980s, a new drug known as crack cocaine developed. Crack cocaine was affordable and could be distributed effortlessly. It became popular in the main towns of America. Its emergence and spread led to an upsurge in drug-associated vicious felonies and created uncertainties about its addictiveness as well as the harmful impacts on users. As the Congress were seeking a solution to this menace, Americans were on June 1986 stunned by the news that Len Bias, a prominent basketball player, was dead because of taking an overdose of crack cocaine. This became the turning point (Todd, Michael, and George 470).
The House reacted to this unfortunate demise with a show of political artfulness as well as an attitude that assured the public that they were firmly tough on offenses. This response incorporated no significant consideration of the initial disaster of mandatory minimums. The Senate Judiciary Committee crafted and endorsed fresh antinarcotics punishments within a few days. These laws were enacted without deliberations, hearings or investigations. The absence of legislative history makes determining the Senateâ€™s aim hard, but it was certain that mandatory penalties were meant to be executed on solemn and key drug traffickers (Batey 224-226). By 1998, the House had ratified mandatory minimum sentences for simply holding powder cocaine. These tough sentences were re-introduced a few years after the House validated the US Sentencing Commission in 1984. The professional organization was formulated and monitored the implementation of the Sentencing Guidelines under the directive that it will ensure that criminals with similar accusations are given comparable penalties. Furthermore, the policies also authorized judges to modify sentences to fit offenders or unique scenarios (Davies 429-457).
By 1994, tough penalties on illegal drugs had been executed on hundreds of petty drug misdemeanors and many individuals were already raising complaints of over-punishment. Senate reacted to the public complaints by passing the safety valve. The safety valve allows the jurors to issue decrees below the mandatory minimums in cases where the defendant has no criminal history, does not own any weapon and cooperates with the prosecution in issuing important facts about the offense (Sevigny, 155-180). Although the safety valve creates respite for most federal drug criminals, it has strict requirements that most individuals are unable to meet. For instance, an individual who has several petty offenses or had been proven guilty of a particular crime in the juvenile does not meet the criteria of the law (Todd, Michael, and George 387).
The failure of the House to debate when enacting the present mandatory minimums has contributed to its failure similar to the preceding tough sentencing policies. The existing federal mandatory minimum sentences have not curtailed the abuse or peddling of narcotics thus, generating numerous detrimental side effects as well as expenses. The House should annul the expensive and unsuccessful experiments caused by mandatory minimums. They are several evidences that show the importance of terminating these rules now more than ever (Greenblatt 1-38).
First, harsh sentences have not barred individuals from using narcotics. Whilst the present mandatory minimum penalties were mainly aimed at curbing drug traffickers, the Senate also expected to reduce the number of drug users. The belief was that if drug peddlers were curtailed then the population of drug addicts would also decline. The belief has failed. Price is the most effective way of regulating supply (Greenblatt 1-38). Since 1981, the cost of cocaine and other drugs has drastically become cheap, cheaper than when mandatory minimums were endorsed. Probably, the drop in price was majorly because the demand deteriorated some years before the stringent sentences had been passed. Between 1979 to1988, there was a sharp decrease in the demand of drugs by 50%. Since mandatory minimum penalties dealt with both drug peddling and possessing cocaine, one would anticipate that the harsh sentences would promote decline of drug abuse. However, instead of the tough sentences reducing drug usage in the nation, it was the media that discouraged the people from using drugs by broadcasting the negative effects of drugs. Whenever the media relaxed in portraying the detrimental effects, the use of drugs escalated (Greenblatt 1-38).
Secondly, mandatory minimums have been unsuccessful in minimizing the prevalence of drug trafficking crimes. Supporters of tough sentences often argue that the national decline in crime rates is a proof that harsh penalties are effective. However, advocates do not have concrete evidence to show that tough sentences have reduced production, importation and distribution of narcotics in America (Davies 429-457). None of the statistics done by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Bureau of Justice have shown drug is being trafficked in the country. However the statistics have revealed a consistent rise in drug offense cases nationwide, and an upsurge in volume of drugs confiscated by police officers annually. This information implies that either more individuals are participating in drug abuse or the government is becoming stricter in investigating issue related to narcotics, but it does not show any association between harsh sentences and drug trafficking (Chavers 22-25).
Most of the drug addicts have also been found to guilty of drug trafficking. In 2004, almost two thirds of the drug peddlers arrested and arraigned in court, admitted to be addicted to the same drugs they are trafficking. 45% of the drug addicts participated in criminal activities to get cash for purchasing narcotics. Mandatory minimums impose tough penalties for drug related felonies, but flops when it comes to eradicating the drug abuse menace that promotes the possession as well as peddling of drugs (Sevigny 155-180).
Furthermore, issuing lengthy punishments on drug offenders has caused a theatrical upsurge in the federal corrections budget. In the period between1987 and 1992 in which the government employed the tough sentencing policies, the expenses for federal correctional activities rose by 226 percent. From 1987 to 2007, the federal prisons expenses escalated to 550 percent. By 2008, the country was allocating over $5.4 billion to federal prisons. This is majorly because of the overpopulation in the prisons with most of the inmates being drug offenders serving long sentences (Sevigny 155-180).
Mandatory minimum sentencing are becoming a problem rather than a solution to drug usage and trafficking. Not only is it causing substantial indirect cost to the federal government but also to the family of the offenders. Statistics show that not less than 1.5 million have their parents incarcerated; in 1991 the figures were below 500,000. Most of these children are below the age of 10 and due to lack of proper parenting, they are likely to find themselves behind the bars. They pose a great threat to the nationâ€™s future security. Moreover, many people have been complaining that mandatory minimums have introduced unjustified disparities. Most of the inmates who are serving lengthy sentences for drug offenses are Blacks and Hispanics. It is time to rectify the current developments (Greenblatt 1-38).
Recommendations for Reform
It is time the Senate solved the problems that mandatory minimum penalties have introduced into the Justice System. Tough sentences have failed in combatting the spread of drugs and instead caused more problems. The Senate should follow the footsteps of the 91st House amended the Boggs Act and other antinarcotics laws that were punitive. There are number of ways that current menace can be solved.
First, the House should annul harsh sentences from the criminal code and only preserve constitutional maximums and sentencing policies. Exclusively using the sentencing guidelines will enable judges to be flexible issuing appropriate verdicts to all offenders. Secondly, the Senate may decide to retain the mandatory minimum penalties but enlarge the current statutory safety valve. The present safety valve only authorizes judges to ignore mandatory minimum sentences in cases that follow particular principles (Todd, Michael, and George 387). However, the current principles of the safety valve are stringent and only a few individuals can meet them. The House could enlarge the safety valve to enable courts impose after assessing the pertinent information about the case as well as the events that prompted its occurrence and if enforcing mandatory harsh penalties would breach the parsimony mandate. The parsimony mandates states that a juror should always issue a fitting decree that does not exceed the reasons for sentencing. This mandate is venerated and equally accepted in the American penalizing law (Batey 224-226).
Over the past fifty years, the American Congressmen have endorsed laws to impose tough sentences in two disparate governments to curtail the upsurge of drug use and trafficking. Both attempts failed to eradicate the drug threat instead they even introduced new problems into the country. The stringent laws escalated the costs of running the federal as well as state prisons. In 1970, America was able to minimize the distribution of narcotics within its territory thanks to shrewd administration of Nixon who annulled the Boggs Act as well the Narcotics Control Act of 1956. The present stringent laws on drugs are doing very little in rectifying the menace; they are becoming a burden to the public and government. It is time the Congress reacted to this issue just as President Nixon did. They are better methods that can be used to reduce use of drugs and drug related felonies instead of tough sentences.