Many prisons throughout the United States have been experiencing the problem of overcrowdedness. This is not a new issue though, in April of 1978 New York State was already feeling the affect of crowded prisons. In an attempt to alleviate the problem the state tried to buy Richers Island from New York City. Since then a rise in population and in poverty have increased the problem and the government has been think of solutions ever since. The main problem was coming up with programs that kept criminals off the streets without overpopulating the prisons. One example of how the government tried to make the streets safer was by imposing mandatory minimum sentences. They were designed to put people behind bars that until then were being released with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. The problem began when they realized that although less criminals were on the streets there were also more in prison which took up space for new prisoners, who in some cases should be there before the ones that were already inhabiting the jail. There have been many new experimental programs in which the government is trying to keep the prison population down. Some of these have proved to be very successful while others have failed. Although not everybody agrees on what the solution they do agree that something has to be changed.
Although many agree that mandatory minimum sentences are out dated and should not be imposed any longer, there are those who approve and support them. Those in favor of them have two strong reasons for there beliefs. First, they believe that the sentences act as a deterrent to possible criminals. The sentences are especially aimed at drug related crimes. The idea was to deter people, especially teens, from looking to make some money in the drug business by weighing it against the jail time they would receive if the were caught. This also directly makes the streets safer by scaring people away from a life of crime. Another argument people have in favor of the sentencing is it speeds up the legal process. Because many of the crimes are misdemeanors, there are no criminal trials. Therefore, when a person is convicted they go straight to jail without having to wait for a sentencing date. Also, with mandatory minimum sentencing there is no chance of a plea bargain.
The argument against mandatory minimum sentencing is , however, as strong as the argument against them. The main reason against this type of sentencing is what I spoke of in the introduction, overcrowded prisons. In a time when overcrowding in becoming a very major problem in prisons things like mandatory minimums only add to the problem. Judges are forced to put certain people away for a set amount of time regardless of there past record. In theory, a person who is a first time drug offender at the age of eighteen could serve more time than a thirty year old child molester.
However this issue is not just cut and dry. There is a medium somewhere in between where an agreement can be made. Even the people who agree that the mandatory sentences should be imposed also believe that they should also be controlled somehow. And that goes the other way too, the people who don t agree with them do agree that criminals should not just be let free. The crime that is on the rise the most lately does not have a mandatory minimum sentence. This crime is related to all sex crimes. Many people believe that as society changes the laws that govern it should change with it. It is ridiculous to me that a child molester should not serve three times what a drug offender should serve. Although drugs in our society are a big problem the is no reason why someone who sold pot in their life once and got caught should take up cell space instead of a molester.
Of course, there are alternatives to incarceration altogether. One of these programs is Shock treatment. Shock was designed for young people who were first time drug offenders. It is now open to any health, first time offender of a misdemeanor, that is no older than thirty eight years old. In order to receive Shock you must get a recommendation from the court and then put in an application yourself. The application is then reviewed and can either pass or be denied in which case you must serve you full sentence. If accepted you go through a six month program of physical and mental training. It is a camp which is designed after a military boot camp. While there you are allowed to pursue your G.E.D. and learn a trade so you are an asset to society when, and if you graduate. An average day at one of the Shock centers in New York starts off with morning physical training. Then you have class to receive your degree. After that you then attend drug and alcohol awareness classes. You then move to another physical training session. The program is designed to build self-discipline along with self-esteem. I personally know someone in Shock right now. He went to high school with me and like many kids from my area turned to drugs. Now he realizes what he did and plans on starting fresh in a new city when he is released in January. Once you are released you stay on probation for the remainder of your sentence. For example, if you are sentenced to three years in state prison but receive Shock, the you serve your six months and the you are on parole for two and a half years. If at any time you violate your parole you are back in jail to serve your full sentence. Also, if you are dismissed from the camp for bad behavior you go straight to a cell to serve your time.