Mandatory-minimum sentences don't work

Letters to the Editor  - August 21st, 2012

THERE IS A GROWING national consensus that mandatory-minimum sentences simply don't work. Despite this, Pennsylvania legislators are on track to pass yet another misguided bill, HB2331, which would create five-year mandatory-minimum sentences for illegal gun possession (Daily News, Aug. 17).

More mandatory-sentencing laws will not make us safer. They will, however, add thousands of people to our already out-of-control prison population at a time when Pennsylvania cannot afford to build more prisons.

Over the past 30 years, Pennsylvania's incarceration rate has increased by more than 500 percent, largely because of this kind of short-sighted, ineffective legislation.

Harsh mandatory sentences have been found to have no impact on whether a person will go back to prison. In 2007, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing released a report on mandatory minimums. According to its findings, "neither the length of sentence, nor the imposition of the mandatory sentence per se, was a predictor of recidivism."

Like too many of our criminal-justice policies, this bill allows politicians to appear tough on gun violence without taking any real steps to address the reasons people carry guns in the first place.

Gun violence in Philadelphia is a deep-rooted problem with tragic consequences. If legislators are serious about stopping the violence plaguing our communities, they need to look at why young people feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods.

We need legislators to invest in the things that we know create safe, sustainable communities - good schools, decent jobs, and social services - instead of building more prison cells and passing laws like HB2331 to fill them.

Sarah Morris

Decarcerate PA