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September 6, 2023

"Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, Crime, and Mass Incarceration: The Case of Mississippi"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Mehdi Barati now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The high rates of incarceration and the substantial financial and societal burdens associated with them have prompted state lawmakers to undertake measures to reduce prison populations.  Mississippi, however, has taken a somewhat different approach compared to other states.  In 2014 it passed House Bill 585, which introduced "true minimums" that require both nonviolent and violent offenders to serve a minimum of 25 and 50 percent of their sentence, respectively. This distinction makes the case of Mississippi particularly interesting, providing an opportunity to examine the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing on crime and incarceration rates.  Toward this end, this study employed both difference-in-differences and synthetic control methodologies to evaluate the effectiveness of House Bill 585.  According to the findings, the initial decline in the imprisonment rate resulting from the reforms was not sustained over time.  Moreover, House Bill 585 not only failed to effectively reduce violent crimes but was also found to be associated with an increase in property crimes in Mississippi.

September 6, 2023 at 07:58 PM | Permalink


The very framing of the article is part of the problem that I have with the semantics of the mandatory minimum debate.

What they are referring to as "mandatory minimums" are actually parole eligibility restrictions which do not apply to the trial court's decision on what sentence to impose. Rather they are restrictions on the Parole Board's ability to let the inmate go early from the sentence that the trial court imposed.

It is important to keep the two concepts separate in the debate. Parole eligibility restrictions serve two roles. First, a "truth in sentencing" aspect of informing the defendant, the victims, the court, and the public of what a particular sentence really means. In other words, does a ten-year sentence means that the defendant will be serving ten years in prison or does it mean that the defendant will be serving somewhere between two and ten years in prison. Second, there is a debate (with pragmatic implications) on whether a more determinate sentence (less discretion for the Parole Board) and a more indeterminate sentence (more discretion for the Parole Board) better serves the various concerns of the criminal justice system (rehabilitation, deterrence, maintaining order in prisons, etc.)

I remember when I started, at the tail end of the U.S. Parole Commission and the start of the sentencing guidelines, nobody referred to the requirement that federal prisoners serve one-third of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole as a mandatory minimum. Instead, that term was used to describe restrictions in the sentencing law which mandate that the sentencing court impose a minimum sentence. Of course, there is another name for that type of mandatory minimum, namely "range of punishment" which has both a mandatory minimum and a mandatory maximum (of which you hear very little complaint on the restriction of judicial discretion).

Because we are describing two very different issues, I think it is important that we use clear and distinct terms for the two separate issues. Otherwise, you get the mush that merely misleads the public into thinking the two issues are actually the same thing.

Posted by: tmm | Sep 7, 2023 11:05:36 AM

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