Mandatory minimum sentencing laws require harsh, automatic prison terms for those convicted of certain crimes, most often drug offenses. Congress enacted mandatory minimums for drugs in 1986 and toughened them in 1988 to apply to drug conspiracies (and certain gun offenses.) The sentence is determined solely by the weight and type of drug, or the presence of a firearm during a felony offense.
Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentencing laws to catch drug “kingpins” and deter drug sales and use. But the laws undermine the American tradition of justice by preventing judges from fitting the punishment to the individual’s role in the offense. Because of mandatory sentencing laws, the population of federal prisons has soared and they are filled with low-level, nonviolent drug law violators – not the “kingpins” mandatory sentences intended to apprehend.