mandatory minimums

John Oliver just might make you passionately hate mandatory minimum sentences

 by Peter Weber, The Week

July 27, 2015


The main subject of Sunday’s Last Week Tonight was mandatory minimum prison sentences. And if that sounds dry and boring, John Oliver does a typically impressive job of making it relevant, entertaining, and infuriating. “Mandatory minimums require judges to punish certain crimes with a minimum number of years in prison, regardless of context,” Oliver explained. “Which is a little strange, because context is important.” He provided a salty example to prove his point.

These laws, passed mostly in the “anti-drug hysteria” of the 1980s and ’90s, are “partially responsible for the explosion of our prison population,” Oliver said. There is now a bipartisan consensus that they don’t work, have done more harm than good, and need to be repealed, he added, after gratuitously insulting all Australians but Hugh Jackman. “Ridiculously long sentences are not a great deterrent to crime. Prison sentences are a lot like penises: If they’re used correctly, even a short one can do the trick — is a rumor I have heard.”

Two dozen states have rolled back their mandatory-minimum laws, but haven’t made that retroactive. “And that’s terrible,” Oliver said. “Just think about how annoyed you get when people who get seated after you at a restaurant get served and leave before you—only in this case, the food is prison food, the restaurant is prison, and dinner takes 55 f—ing years.” The examples he shows of people caught up in these laws is the most powerful part, and if you tear up a bit, you’re not alone.


Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008.


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2 Responses to “mandatory minimums”

  1. July 28, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Mandatory sentences (for recidivists and violent offenders) is something that one of our previous government has struck in our laws in 2007. But it has been demonstrated that it doesn’t work and our Parliament has abolished this law disposition seven year later. At the same time was adopted, to replace the abrogated law, another legal disposition, close to the American system of probation, called “criminal coercion” which didn’t exist before that. The criminal constraint applies to persons the most in difficulty (insertion, addictions, behavioral disorder…). It provides a monitoring and control. The convicted person is subject to a set of obligations and prohibitions, and support is sustained for a period that can be up to 5 years. Criminal coercion is ordered by the judges at the sentencing hearing.
    I firmly believe that criminal coercion (or probation) is a better issue than mandatory sentences, especially for minor offenders or youths in trouble. Most often, these ones are people in difficulty, needing help and reinsertion in society instead than unimaginably long punishment.
    Abolishing mandatory sentences will give to judges more latitude in their sentencing, more possibilities to take in account the context and weighing all the circumstances. And perhaps show more humanity, by examining the cases they have to judge. There is more to bet that they will hand down more appropriate sentences in the future – with perhaps an exception: Motto’s gang at Lawrence County.
    And abolishing retroactively such sentences will not only give hope to all the minor offenders. It will also depopulate the American overcrowded prisons and drop the ratio between population in custody and free population closer to those of occidental societies.

  2. 2 Daryl Watton
    August 16, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    I suppose I agree with mandatory minimums so that lenient judges cannot impose their biases in favour of a preferred group or soft-peddle the law. However, I think the typical minimum sentences for serious crimes are much too high, especially where a teenager is subjected to adult sentences. Ten to twenty years I think would suffice, even for murder. A (number)-to-life sentence can put serious offenders on perpetual parole to keep them accountable. I disagree that anybody should be forced to stay in jail for more than twenty years if they can prove themselves worthy of release. Parole boards should not have the power of to restrict a man’s freedom for longer than that time unless they commit further crimes in prison.

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