I’ve complained about the inequities of mandatory sentences, and the problems inherent in removing all judicial discretion from sentencing. When you impose blanket rules, you will end up with unjust results. The Federal system has already moved to roll back some of the mandatory sentences that have been imposed on drug offenses. Now, one federal judge took it upon himself to push the prosecutor’s office to drop some charges to allow a re-sentencing of an offender the judge had been forced to impose an extremely harsh sentence. Some might not have any sympathy for Francois Holloway, as he was undoubtedly guilty of the crimes, but the required stacking provisions meant he got sentences several times longer than his codefendants, and he wasn’t even the one carrying the firearm.
Mandatory sentences that eliminate discretion spawn cases like Marissa Alexander, who may be facing 60 years for firing a warning shot that harmed nobody. Very rarely to violent offenders have sympathetic stories with a chance of swaying the legislature, but hers is the rare exception that may affect positive change. There are not many judges like Judge Gleeson, who took it on his own initiative to push for a just sentence. Gleeson criticized the system further, blaming prosecutorial abuse for a “significant number of federal inmates who are serving grotesquely severe sentences.” I counter that the prosecutors are not abusing their power, merely exercising the power granted to them through harsh sentencing schemes. The legislators have told them, both on the federal level and in states like Florida, that they want harsh sentences: it’s literally mandated by law. Those draconian rules should be the ultimate focus of our concern: they merely provide the framework under which the criminal justice system operates.
Also, the buildup in lengthy incarceration is wildly expensive and taxing on our system. Ironically, crime rates have been dropping just as incarceration rates are finally coming down. Harsh sentences are probably not the most effective crime deterrent, and certainly not the most cost effective.