Imagine you’re a judge. A 19-year-old young man named Ronald D. Evans comes before you. He has been convicted of selling drugs and your job is to sentence him fairly. If you’re like me, you’d be pretty skeptical that such a young man was a cigar-chomping, mansion-owning drug kingpin, who deserves an overly harsh penalty. But maybe you’d still conclude he deserves some prison time. Not a lot, but just enough so that the punishment fits the crime.
Sorry, Judge. You can’t actually do anything of those. Ronald was convicted of charges that require mandatory minimum sentences. That means you can’t decide how he’s punished, if at all. Lawmakers who have never met Ronald and who don’t know the specifics of his case have preordained it.
For Ronald, a young, low-level, nonviolent, drug seller, you must sentence him to life in prison. Without parole. You must decide against all your better judgment that this young man deserves to be punished until he dies and that you will never, ever give him a chance to prove he’s changed.
There are no shortages of cases like these where harsh policies seemingly designed for the worst movie villains are applied to the young, the poor, and the powerless. We crack down on immigrants who entered the country looking to work the hardest jobs at the lowest pay. We crack down on our own kids when they act up in the school. Picking on people is the new national pastime, it seems.
And an expensive hobby at that. For all 2.2 million prisoners in the United States, taxpayers are shelling out on average about $30,000 per person per year. ). Ronald D Evans’ sentence alone is expected to cost taxpayers at least $1.3 million.
Last December, when President Obama announced the commutations of sentences of a handful of federal prisoners, we applauded the decision, despite the thousands left behind bars. We have now heard rumors that many more hundreds or even thousands of pardons may be on the way. We again applaud these efforts, but if lasting changes to the laws that support these penalties aren’t changed, the next Ronald D. Evans will be entirely at the mercy of the next president’s mood.
That’s why Brave New Films partnered with Families Against Mandatory Minimum and the American Civil Liberties Union to support the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bill currently working its way through the Senate. This act would reform how mandatory minimums would apply, and reduce the penalties. We need your help.