Mandatory Sentencing by the Numbers

The Roar Meter is a weekly story in numbers.

Federal Mandatory Sentencing laws have been on the books since 1986, when they were introduced as part of the Reagan Administration’s War on Drugs. Mandatory sentencing and “Three Strikes” laws are used primarily in drugs, weapon, and violent crimes including sex trafficking, assault, and murder.

  • Shortest mandatory drug sentences: 5 years
    • 1st offense; manufacture, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute, no death or serious bodily injury results
    • 1st offense; unlawful import or export, no death or serious bodily injury results
  • Number of states that have repealed or reduced mandatory sentences: 19
    • They are: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Rhode Island
    • Most of these changes are to drug laws, though Louisiana’s are for sex offenses and Maine’s for murder.

Due to several factors, mandatory sentencing laws disproportionately affect black offenders.

  • Nationwide estimates of prisoners serving life without parole (LWOP) for nonviolent offenses, by race (rounded up):
    • 66% Black
    • 18% White
    • 16% Latino
  • In Louisiana, the state with the highest number overall of prisoners serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses, the percentage of Black prisoners is 92.
  • Black offenders are more likely to be sentenced to LWOP than white offenders. In the federal system, a black offender is 20 times more likely than a white offender to get LWOP.
  • Juvenile offenders overall are less likely to serve LWO. Nationally, 77% of prisoners sentenced as children serving LWOP are Black and Latino.
    • Black youths serve these sentences at 10 times the rate of white youths.
Sources

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