Action of the Week: One-Size-Fits-All Prison Sentencing Fits No One

Unfair mandatory minimum sentencing laws flood prisons with nonviolent offenders.
Feb 21, 2013· 0 MIN READ
Callie Spaide is Participant Media’s Manager of Digital Advocacy and Social Impact.

Five years in federal prison for buying five grams of cocaine? Life without parole for selling LSD? If these sentences seem extreme to you, you’re not alone.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws have flooded America’s prisons with nonviolent offenders, who often receive five-to-ten-year sentences for first-time offenses. A side effect of the decades-long war on drugs, these laws take away judges’ discretion, forcing them to hand out unfair sentences without taking into account prior history or circumstances.

The results are clear: The United States has the world’s largest prison population, costing on average more than $70 billion each year. More than half of those prisoners are in jail for drug-related charges. Now leaders from both sides of the aisle are realizing these laws are causing more harm than good, locking up nonviolent offenders who need rehabilitation, not hard time.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming the United States’ sentencing laws. In 1994, they were critical in passing a “safety valve” for federal drug offenders, allowing judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum when the defendant passes a five-part test. Today, they’re reaching out to congressional leaders to urge further reform, which would ensure fair sentencing for even more defendants.

Take action by signing their petition to demand sentencing reform now, before more money is wasted and lives are ruined as a result of policies that don’t work.