Dean Ronald Weich and Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, contributed an online op-ed to The Washington Post, “Strengthen the Justice Reinvestment Act by repealing Maryland’s mandatory sentencing laws” (March 16).
While praising the “historic” Justice Reinvestment legislation, which would reduce the state’s prison population and free up several hundred million dollars to expand reentry and treatment resources for former inmates, Weich and Schindler urged Maryland lawmakers to go further:
“We … believe the final bill should be strengthened by including more comprehensive changes to Maryland’s drug sentencing laws. Specifically, mandatory sentencing provisions in the Maryland Code should be repealed and sentences for drug sales should be reduced consistent with research on the negligible impact of long sentences on public safety. By seizing this opportunity for long-overdue reform, the General Assembly can make the Maryland criminal-justice system fairer and more effective for everyone.”
Calling mandatory minimum sentencing a “fatally flawed policy,” Weich and Schindler said sentences should be imposed by judges in individual cases, not by legislators in categories of cases.
“Mandatory-sentencing laws are not truly mandatory, but the discretion to avoid them rests with prosecutors rather than with neutral judges,” they wrote. “By depriving judges of needed discretion, mandatory minimums unnecessarily ratchet up the length of sentences, costing taxpayers millions of dollars with little benefit to public safety.”
Noting that mandatory minimums have contributed greatly to the phenomenon of mass incarceration – and noting, too, that the United States imprisons more people than any other democratic country – Weich and Schindler said mandatory sentencing laws also produce unacceptable racial disparities: “A disproportionate number of African Americans is affected, contributing to the destabilization of African American neighborhoods.”