Saturday, June 1, 2013

On Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

On Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: When Congress passed the Boggs Act of 1952, the United States entered the realm of mandatory sentencing. More specifically, the Boggs Act called for minimum prison terms and maximum punishable fines for people found in possession of marijuana. Thus, mandatory sentencing began as a means to deter the sale and use of a drug. But by the mid-1980s, the criminalization of drugs went into hyper-drive. With the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Congress enacted a variety of new mandatory sentences for drugs including cocaine, marijuana, and MDMA (ecstasy). Perhaps the biggest change in federal drug policy at the time was the heightened emphasis on the punitive instead of the rehabilitative. The state had effectively tossed aside judicial discretion (in certain circumstances) and cast an "unequal gaze" (as Foucault would say) toward the perpetrator. It was a "modernization of punishment" according to government officials. It was also a grand experiment in transparency, making it known to citizens that if you commit "X," you will receive "X's" punishment. And although mandatory sentences started in response to drugs, they have since spread to cover nearly all felonies, as states like California have adopted a "three-strikes law," which has dramatically increased incarceration rates. As a result, the U.S. has become a prison-industrial complex where cheap criminal labor helps sustain corporate profit margins.

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