Mandatory minimum sentencing and its ‘tough on crime’ brethren the infamous ‘three strikes your out’ law have been enacted in many states and a few countries. In every case there has been marked increase in prison population, enormous burden on the taxpayer and no corresponding reduction in overall crime rates.
In California, 65% of inmates serving second or third sentences were convicted of non-violent or non-serious crimes. Yet in counties that enacted the strictest adherence to tough sentencing guidelines and had the highest sentencing rates also saw an increase in violent crimes after implementing these laws.
Mandatory minimum sentencing removes judicial discretion from the sentencing process and further allows the prosecution to determine who is a habitual offender and burdens the taxpayer at the expense of other important services most notably education. Education is one of the most proven crime prevention tools and is estimated to show a return on investment to the taxpayer of up to 15 to 1. Despite this Oregon faces two upcoming initiatives on the November ballot that will divert funds from education in favor of prison expansion.
Ballot initiatives 40 and 41 will expand mandatory sentencing and further divert 15% of lottery funds away from education. Oregon is presently the only state in the nation that spends more of its general fund on corrections than higher education.
Mandatory sentencing fails to address the root causes of crime such as poverty. Nor does it provide long term solutions to these problems and it further erodes human capital by separating families, reducing the work force and therefore the tax base depriving society as a whole. Investing tax dollars in education, on the other hand, has proven crime prevention benefits and proven return on investment.
Many states after experimenting for several years with the tough on crime approach are rethinking their strategy in favor of rehabilitation. California and Texas discovered that the burden of incarceration exceeded the benefits and are adopting programs to train and educate inmates to reenter society. Budget constraints are forcing states to view drug abuse as a health problem. Non-violent drug offenders are being offered addiction therapy at a lower cost to the taxpayer and a lower prison recidivism rate.
Coquille’s new police chief, Mark Dannels noted that intervention, i.e., arrest or incarceration should always be the last resort. Mandatory sentencing has been proven to be a costly and ineffective crime prevention tool and I urge everyone to vote NO on 40 and 41 this November.