This week you will be reading about something called the “sentencing sea change” which marked a dramatic shift from indeterminate sentencing to determinate sentencing which include the abolition of discretionary parole in many, if not most, states. This change began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and marked an enormous shift from shorter-term sentences with a focus on rehabilitation TO longer-term sentences with a focus on punishment and incapacitation. This strategy, frequently referenced as “getting tough on crime” was characterized by true life sentences, minimum mandatory sentences, three strikes and you’re out-type sentences, habitual offender laws, 10-20-life sentences, and enhancement penalties for gang affiliation, gun possession, etc. This strategy even resulted in removal of public housing and other forms of public assistance for those convicted of drug crimes. In short, the shift made our criminal justice system MUCH more punitive and created an enormous uptick in the number of individuals incarcerated for long periods of time.
Be mindful, this occurred in the midst of what I would call a “perfect storm”. This was the time when crack cocaine and heroine hit the street, fueling more crime and violence on our streets. This was also the time when media conglomerates were born – since profit was their motivation, what they showed on their news networks had to sell. They quickly discovered that crime and violence “sells” on the screen, so the public was fed a menu consisting of crime, crack cocaine, inner-city “crack babies”, the “coming of the super predators”, and gang life. This increased fear of crime among the public, and politicians were quick to seize on this, creating agendas that were designed to “get tough on crime”. In addition to all of this, the prison industrial complex was born during this time, and private companies literally cashed in on the mass incarceration of whole groups of people. When profit is the motive, the longer you can incarcerate individuals and the more individuals you can incarcerate is the goal. Again, a perfect storm. The net impact of all of this is where we are today – we lead the world in the number of people we incarcerate. We incarcerate people for longer periods of time than any other country. We have more people serving “true life sentences” than most other countries. We have more juvenile offenders serving true life sentences than any other country. And most people falling within this criminal justice system “net” are from black and brown communities, so the impact there is widespread. Many are sucked into the system for low-level drug-related offenses.
With all of this said, please review the following quote and also use the link to review a short news story on “crack babies” so you can get a sense of how the media spun these issues back during the 1980s and created enormous fear about crack cocaine. Then, write a 2-page reflection paper on your thoughts. You really can write anything you would like addressing these issues.
Quote: One of the most controversial mandatory minimum laws are the federal sentencing laws for cocaine crimes, which set a mandatory prison term of 5 years for possession or sale of 5 grams of crack cocaine. In contrast, the laws set a 5 year mandatory minimum prison term for the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine. Because crack cocaine is less expensive it is marketed to lower income neighborhoods which are comprised of mostly African-Americans. African Americans account for more than 80% of crack cocaine sentences. (Note: I believe that these sentences have recently been amended slightly, although the distinction between crack and power cocaine is still reflected in the law today).
The Crack Baby Scare: From Faulty Science to Media Panic | Retro Report – YouTube
Sentencing Sea Change
Research has shown that most minority groups in the United States of America have been subjected to a lot of suffering than their White counterparts. It is incredible the impact media has on our daily life. The crack babies in 1980 were of the stories that the press exaggerated, leading to arrests of several pregnant women. The women were mainly charged with murder and child abuse because they used crack cocaine during pregnancy (Retro report ,2019).I think the government was unfair in handling such cases because they arrested the women without solid evidence that, indeed, crack cocaine was the cause of the reported incidences of low birth weight, prematurity, and congenital disabilities.
Its key to remember that the healthcare system in the United States experiences health disparities. The minority groups have poor access to healthcare services which can be the main contributors to the poor pregnancy outcome reported. According to research, women in the minority group report the highest number of preterm babies, miscarriages, and infant mortality rates due to lack of finances(Retro report ,2019).The media and government could have first look at other reasons for the poor pregnancy outcome instead of solely focusing on crack cocaine as the primary cause.
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