Mandatory minimum prison sentences are punishments that are set through legislation for specific offenses. They have been used throughout history for different crimes. The four traditional goals of punishment are: deterrence, incapacitation (incarceration), retribution, and rehabilitation. With the state of our national economy, cutting prison and corrections costs would be a huge savings. On the surface, it may seem that mandatory minimum sentences would serve the traditional goals of punishment. They would discourage potential criminals, keep society safe for longer periods of time, they would punish the offender and they would rehabilitate the offender. What they did not do, however, is take into account the individual
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In 1973, the state of New York passed the Rockefeller Drug Laws that imposed mandatory 15-year and life sentences for certain drug offenses. In 1978, the State of Michigan passes what is know as the 650 lifer law. It established a mandatory minimum penalty of life without parole for possession of 650 grams of cocaine or heroin. It also established mandatory minimum sentences for lesser amounts. The 650 lifer law legislated the longest mandatory minimum sentence in the country. Mandatory minimum sentences were enacted again by Congress in the mid 1980’s, aided in part by the increased media attention surrounding crack cocaine. In 1998, Michigan Governor John Engler signed modifications to the law which eliminated life without parole and provided parole eligibility to prisoners sentenced under the 650 lifer law.
In 2003, Governor Engler signed more modifications to the law that made sweeping changes. It gave prisoners with long sentences earlier parole eligibility. Mandatory minimums for almost all drug offenses were repealed and lifetime probation was abolished. Lastly, it created sentencing guidelines for drug offenses that can allow the sentence to be tailored to the defendant and the crime. Many states now have safety valves that allow the court to not impose a mandatory minimum sentence if the defendant meets a certain criteria (first offense, non-violent, helpful to the