When you face a judge for sentencing for a criminal charge, he or she usually has complete freedom in handing down a sentence. However, for some federal criminal charges, the law sets a minimum sentence that becomes mandatory. The judge cannot give you anything less than that set standard.
According to the United States Sentencing Commission, minimum mandatory sentences are not something that everyone agrees with. The commission believes that Congress would better handle criminal sentencing with guidelines. There are several reasons why the commission does not feel mandatory minimum sentences work effectively.
Increases prison population
By imposing mandatory minimum sentences, judges must put people into prison. This does not allow them to consider the current population and if there is even room for new offenders. Because you may have to go to prison due to this type of sentencing, you face the potential of being in a overflowing system that cannot adequately house you. In fact, that is a real problem with federal prisons; they have far too many inmates.
Causes long sentences
Because judges cannot customize a sentence for a crime that has a mandatory minimum sentence, it often means longer prison time. Research shows that mandatory minimum sentences are generally much longer than those a judge hands down on his or her own. Again, this only hurts the already overcrowded prison system. Plus, it means that you could spend extra time in prison than a judge really feels you deserve.
The only good thing about minimum mandatory sentences is that they usually only apply in the most severe cases. Typically, if you were a ringleader or commit a serious crime, then you will face a mandatory sentence. So, such sentences do a good job of ensuring that the worst criminals get time behind bars. However, the prevailing idea is that there is a better way to ensure that this happens without minimum standards.