According to NJ.com, 76.3% of individuals in New Jersey prisons in 2019 had mandatory minimum sentences.
Such sentences have been a part of the state’s criminal justice system since 1979. They impact violent and non-violent crimes and are a factor in the adult and juvenile systems.
Basics of mandatory sentencing
Mandatory minimum sentences set a predetermined length of incarceration for specific criminal offenses. The individual must serve the entire sentence. The judge also has an obligation to impose this type of sentence. There is no room for the court to alter the sentencing term. This rigid approach sends a clear message about the severity of certain crimes.
No reductions possible
Beyond the judge not having the ability to alter the sentence, mandatory minimums also do not allow for early release. Inmates can often earn time credits for good behavior or participation in educational or vocational programs. These credits can reduce the sentence they must serve. However, they have no impact on the mandatory minimum sentence.
Issues with mandatory minimums
Critics argue mandatory minimum sentences can be too harsh. They contend that individual circumstances, such as the offender’s background, the nature of the crime and potential for rehabilitation, should be a part of sentencing. Some believe that a more personalized and rehabilitative approach might better contribute to reducing recidivism.
Mandatory minimum sentences serve as a stern deterrent. However, the rigidity of these sentences raises questions about the balance between punishment and the potential for rehabilitation. Recent reforms seek to strike a balance between accountability and fairness.