Prison reform is a never-ending conversation. Everything from the length of sentences whether minimum or maximum to the debate over the death penalty and prisoner rights are continuously in the news, on blogs and brought up in political arenas. Some simply don’t care about what happens to those who are incarcerated because it does not impact them or so they think anyway. There are those who totally get it and then there are businesses that are taking advantage and gaining profit.
Putting a real face to those who have had to deal with these long minimum sentences really matters. There is the case of Cynthia Shank who had a case thrown out against her only for it to be reopened 5 years later and she received a mandatory 15 years sentence that completely rocked her family. Her case was so remarkable a movie called The Sentence was written about it. In Shank’s case, she thought a case where she got accused of a nonviolent crime because of her ex was behind her and she had moved on with her life. She married and even had a baby before the rug was pulled from under her for the same case she thought was in her past.
It is no secret the idea behind these types of sentences was originally to make them fair without bias towards people. Like anything else what was supposed to be and what really is are two different things. They were supposed to reduce crime as they were to serve as a deterrent. Digging deeper into these sentences, we can clearly see that they are used very often to target minority and poor populations. These populations are often people without the means to even fight their cases so the fairness factor has pretty much gone out the door. Additionally, like in the case of Shank it makes one concerned about people being truthful because if they are faced with the possibility of minimum mandatory sentences they may, in fact, say anything to ensure others get the crimes pinned on them. There have been people who have been unjustly convicted of crimes only to later be found innocent yet they had been given these mandatory sentences.
Fortunately, groups like FAMM are working hard to try and ensure sentences are fair to all regardless of race or economic status. These organizations can’t do it by themselves. They need people like you and me to help them. We need to help them because every time someone is put behind that wall, it is our tax dollars that house them. There certainly is a good reason for people to pay the price for committing crimes; however, paying for a long time being behind bars unnecessarily benefits no one. In fact, this often results in recidivism as people have learned to adapt to life structured behind the wall but lose their way in regular society. You and I can be the voice. We can help be the change. We can advocate for fair sentences and improved systems of accountability so that fewer people are wrongly convicted and sentences meet the severity of the crimes.
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