A recent poll indicated that a majority of Americans support eliminating minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes. A minimum mandatory sentence is a sentence that is prescribed by the state legislature or Congress that indicates the minimum, or lowest, sentence a person can get after being convicted of certain crimes. It takes the discretion away from the judge and the prosecutor who have more specific knowledge of the particular facts of the case. One argument in support of minimum mandatory sentences is that they equalize the treatment given to different people who are convicted of similar crimes. However, in taking away the discretion of prosecutors to recommend lower sentences and judges to issue lower sentences, the results are often unfair and fail to take into consideration the mitigating circumstances of each individual case. They also prevent judges from ordering particular defendants to serve a more appropriate and rehabilitative sentence, such as one incorporating treatment, and often limit judges to ordering a more inappropriate and costly sentence that only incorporates prison. This can be particularly true for nonviolent crimes such as drug crimes.
The recent report indicated that 78% of the people polled felt that judges, as opposed to legislators, should decide what sentence a particular criminal defendant should get after pleading guilty or no contest to a nonviolent crime or being found guilty of a nonviolent crime after a trial. This is consistent with the idea that the judges who know more about the specific cases and individuals are better equipped to decide what sentence is appropriate.
Recent reports have also indicated that minimum mandatory sentences have had no beneficial effect on drug use and abuse, drug addiction or drug trafficking. Often, these minimum mandatory sentences affect drug users and small time drug dealers as opposed to drug traffickers and suppliers. However, minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes like drug crimes have significantly increased state and federal costs and ensured that those funds have gone toward incarceration and inmate housing as opposed to drug treatment and prevention which might reduce the number of nonviolent drug offenders who go through the criminal justice system.