Here at SentenceSpeak, we love looking at how other nations sentence. Alas, often the news isn't good -- countries like Canada, Ireland, Britain, and Australia are beginning to contemplate and create more and more mandatory minimum sentences. It's one aspect of American life that, trust us, they don't want. But tell that to their politicians, who seem to be driven by the same knee-jerk overreacting and fears about being "soft on crime" that most of our lawmakers suffer from.
This interesting article from The Australian provides a nice response to an argument we hear all the time: tough prison sentences (especially mandatory minimums) will scare people off of committing drug crimes. The theory is called deterrence, and it's been proven time and again not to be valid.
The theory is that if we send drug offenders to jail for long periods other potential drug offenders will rethink their cost-benefit assessment of the activity and decide to get a day job instead.
The theory is a good one and it sounds logical. But science shows that the theory is wrong.
Study after study has established that longer jail terms (and even the death penalty) do not reduce crime.
The only threat that does reduce crime is the threat of being apprehended.
Hence, more uniformed police on the streets reduces crime.
It seems the main cost-benefit assessment undertaken by offenders is whether or not they are likely to be caught. They do not project far enough to consider exactly what will happen if they are caught.
The abject failure of general deterrence theory is evident from the fact that in virtually every city block in the world people can readily purchase illicit drugs.
There is nothing that can be achieved by a 20-year term of imprisonment for drug offending that can't be achieved by, say, a five to eight-year term. Any time beyond this is simply gratuitous and punishes the community.On both sides of the hemisphere, we need to move past ideas that sound good in theory but haven't been proven to work in reality. Thirty years of experience with mandatory minimum sentences shows conclusively that they aren't stopping drug use and trafficking. Let's try something new, like alternatives that hold offenders accountable and keep them from committing crimes, and letting judges decide who needs prison time -- and how much.