Reasons for & against mandatory sentencing

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Reasons for & against mandatory sentencing
Mandatory sentencing prescribes the punishment for certain offences. (Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Mandatory sentences are predetermined sentences for certain categories of offences, mainly drug-related and gun-related crimes. Under this sentencing, the offender must serve a minimum number of years in prison. An example of a mandatory sentence is the "three strikes rule." Under this law, a third criminal conviction leads to a life of imprisonment. This law is meant to deter habitual offenders from committing further crimes. Mandatory sentences have both advantages and disadvantages.

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Crime Deterrence and Uniformity in Sentencing

An advantage of mandatory sentence is the fact that it serves as a deterrent by letting criminal offenders know what's in store for them if they continue with their criminal activities. This is an effective method of ensuring that at least some criminals do not repeat an offence. The fear of a mandatory life sentence might deter a convicted drug pusher from going back to such criminal activities. Mandatory sentencing also removes the ultimate decision about the sentencing of a criminal from the judge or jury. This is to ensure a more uniform dispensation of justice for certain categories of offences instead of the disparity evident in use of judicial discretion and jury verdicts.

Removal of Recidivists from the Society

Recidivism refers to a situation whereby an offender keeps repeating an undesirable behaviour despite experiencing negative consequences as a result of such action. One of the advantages of mandatory sentences is that it removes these recidivists from society. Imprisoning such offenders reduces the number of habitual offenders in the society and the rate of crime.

Potential for Injustice

Mandatory sentencing carries a potential for injustice towards the defendants. The law denies the defendants legal resources like plea bargaining, the defendant's right to a jury trial and use of judicial discretion. Judicial discretion usually takes into consideration mitigating factors like health, poverty and other motivating factors when sentencing offenders. Mandatory sentences divest judges of this discretion, making it unnecessary to gauge the type of sentencing that might be appropriate based on the facts of the case.

Cost and Swell in Prison Numbers

Since mandatory sentencing is inflexible, it leaves no other choice than to imprison offenders who are sentenced based on the provisions of the law. These offenders must then serve a minimum number of years before the possibility of parole. In some cases, there are no parole possibilities. This has not only led to an increase in prison population, but it also places a burden of increased cost on taxpayers and the government.

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