CI: No to Mandatory Minimums ~ Yes To Another Way

November 20, 2013 at 6:32 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Gun Culture, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, Prison Industrial Complex, What People are Doing to Change the World

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Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

No to Mandatory Minimums ~ Yes To Another Way*
by nancy a heitzeg

Evidence of the high costs – economic and sociological – of mandatory minimums mount. ( See the new ACLU Report on life without parole for non-violent offenders, A Living Death: Sentenced to Die Behind Bars for What? ). Still, so-called “liberal” politicians continue to push for the expansion of such laws. Like his California counter-part, Jerry Brown, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s response to the complex issues of violence in the city is a simplistic call for increased mandatory minimums for guns via HB 2265/SB 1342.

Defeated for the moment, this bill has the support of the NRA now, so if you are in Illinois, please continue to contact your representatives. Opponents agree that this bill will compound the incarceration crisis, escalate racialized policing, and  fail to address the under-lying issues. From Decarcerate Illinois:

image (1)1. Mandatory minimums do not deter crime

There is no credible evidence that imposing mandatory minimum sentences leads to crime reduction.  States that have implemented mandatory minimums have found them to be ineffective.  For example, a study of Florida’s 3 year mandatory minimum for weapons offenses found that it “did not have a measurable deterrent effect on violent crime.”  Mandatory minimum sentences simply sweep more people into the prison system for longer periods of time without a measurable benefit to public safety.

2. Mandatory minimums destroy lives.

Mandatory minimums take the law out of the hands of judges, requiring them to impose draconian sentences when they are not warranted.  Young people slapped with mandatory minimum sentences under SB1342 would face drastically reduced prospects in life, benefiting no one. Judges should be able to weigh the circumstances before them and exercise discretion, not be forced into a lazy “one size fits all” approach.

3. Mandatory minimums are too costly.

In its original form, SB1342 was calculated to add 4,000 individuals to Illinois’ swollen prison population at a cost of approximately $965,000,000 over ten years.  The bill has been amended (see “SB1342 Fact Sheet” for details) and a new cost estimate is being produced, but it will certainly involve hundreds of millions of dollars, money that would be much better spent on efforts that are proven to reduce violence, such as generating jobs, investing in schools, and providing physical and mental health care. Given how ineffective mandatory minimums have proven to be, the costs of implementing a new mandatory minimum in Illinois cannot be justified.

Bu there is a different way; there is a bolder vision.

For Chicago. For Everywhere.

Let us forge a new path.

If You Want Peace, Fight for Justice
September 7, 2013

Keynote Speaker: Angela Davis
Special Guest and Commentator: Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
Moderator: Cheryl Corley
Panelists: Ryan Hollon (YMCA Youth Safety and Violence Prevention Initiative), Mariame Kaba (Project Nia), Ameena Matthews (Violence Interrupter), Henry Cervantes (Marquette University Peace Works Program)

The focus of the first annual Bending the Arc Symposium will be gun violence as a social, racial and economic justice issue. The discussion will be framed around the ways that young people, their families and their communities have been harmed by the actual violence as well as the ways that policy makers, law enforcement officials, social service providers, the media and, in some cases community leaders have responded to the problem. At best, common intervention strategies focus on overly simplified notions of “perpetrators” and “innocent victims” that result in uncoordinated and short-term responses to crisis situations. Worse, the problem of gun violence has promoted a way of speaking in racially coded language about young people of color (mostly men) that normalizes them as legitimate targets of harsh law enforcement from the criminal legal system.

Event Co-Sponsors

Black Youth Project
Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women & Gender in the Arts & Media at Columbia College
Crossroads Fund
The Institute For Research On Race and Public Policy at UIC
Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
First Defense Legal Aid
National Lawyers Guild of Chicago
Public Square
Project Nia
Saint James Cathedral
Woods Fund of Chicago

* Special thanks to Mariame Kaba of Project Nia and Suey Park, for the graphic.


When will white justice advocates and majority white justice organizations learn that "get tough" only leads to more structural racism and poverty?