Entering the 20 th century, adequate recordkeeping became more commonplace and data regarding crime and incarceration in the United States was more tangible, and thus it was easier to draw conclusions based on trends in criminal activity. The United States Crime and Justice Atlas, published in the year 2000 by the U.S. Department of Justice provides an in-depth look at crime and incarceration rates in the United States over the course of the last century. Written by former Attorney General Janet Reno and a myriad of her colleagues in the year 2000, the Crime
Marshall 7 and Justice Atlas of 2000 shows us that the crime rate in the United States was relatively stable, until the late 1950’s. Shortly thereafter, the crime rate goes on a steady increase, peaking in the 80’s, and then beginning a slow and steady decline in the early 1990’s (Reno, et al. Crime and Justice Atlas 36-38). In regards to prison population, the trend was relatively steady throughout the 20 th century, dropping slightly during the drafts of both World War II and the Vietnam War. In the early seventies, a major spike in prison population occurred, reaching 1.13 million prisoners in 1997 (Crime and Justice Atlas 42). In regards to this growth, the assertions made by the Crime and Justice Atlas data are as follows “the entire 75-year trend in U.S. state prison populations has been characterized by growth, with the most dramatic increases beginning in the mid-1970s. The average annual growth rate was about 4% for the period 1925–1997. However, for the period 1974–1997, the average annual growth rate was approximately 8%” (Crime and Justice Atlas 43). Proponents and opponents both have noted that the increase in incarceration rates run parallel to the implementation of harsher mandatory minimum laws that came about during the height of the “War on Drugs” era. Entering the 21 st century, crime rates have continued to decline, aside from a few cities seeing small increases in crimes near their inner cities. Despite mandatory minimum laws having a rather lengthy timeline, the intense contention between proponents and opponents of mandatory minimums is a relatively recent phenomenon, according to Evan Bernick. Bernick states in his work “Reconsidering Mandatory Minimum Sentences: The Arguments for and Against Potential Reforms” that “For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, federal trial judges had virtually unlimited sentencing discretion. In the 1960s and 1970s, influential members of the legal establishment criticized that practice, concluding that that unrestrained discretion gave rise to well-documented sentencing disparities in factually similar cases” (Bernick). Interestingly
Marshall 8 enough, according to Bernick sentencing disparity was an issue that mandatory minimums were designed to fix, while proponents argue that sentencing disparity is a byproduct of the use of mandatory minimums. Bernick then goes on to say, “Over time, that scholarship paved the way for Congress to modify the federal sentencing process through the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. That law did not withdraw all sentencing discretion from district courts; it did, however,
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- Mandatory Minimum Laws, mandatory minimums, Zachary Marshall