Week Twenty-five
Mandatory Minimum = Mass Incarceration

Mass incarceration is a major civil rights issue. A primary reason for the surge in the American prison population is the federal law mandating minimum sentencing. Individuals who meet certain stipulations of the law are required to serve a minimum sentence.  For nonviolent drug offenders, their sentences are determined not by the circumstances of their arrest, but by the amount of drugs on them when arrested.  Mandatory minimum sentencing can force judges to penalize offenders without regard to key circumstances in the case.  

Groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), The Decarceration Project, and Criminal Justice Policy Foundation are working to reform the laws, and secure the release of nonviolent offenders, many of whom have been imprisoned for decades.  Check out FAMM's video explaining the Anti-Drug Abuse act of 1986 and its impact on mandatory minimum sentences.  

Mandatory minimums also adversely impact the children and families of those incarcerated.  Their families spend years working with lawyers for their release.  Parents miss key moments in their children's lives.  Listen to some of the testimonies of people affected by mandatory minimum sentences.

Making more people aware of how mass incarceration is achieved through excessive sentencing for low level crimes will help to activate citizens to make changes. We must do more. 

Learning  the Law To Take Action 

  1. Learn more about mandatory minimums by reading this article on the 2017 Overview of Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System. 
  2. Can you think of a small offense that would land someone in prison for half their life? Watch this video That Much Time for Only 35 Pills? of an innocent act that cost a woman her freedom. 
  3. How do you feel about mandatory minimums? Answer this question by taking the poll in our Facebook 50 Weeks of Action Group Page.
How Incarceration Affects Families 
There are millions of children in the U.S. with a parent in jail or prison. Having a parent in prison or jail can be hard for many reasons. If a parent is incarcerated they may be away for a short time or a long time. They may miss a lot of fun times such as seeing kids play sports or win awards.  
For Families 

To help families cope with this difficult issue, Sesame Street recently introduced a new character named Alex. His father is in prison, and Alex explains how it makes him feel to be away from his dad. 

  1. Check out this Sesame Street Interactive Toolkit for activities, videos and ideas on how to work through challenging issues like coping with incarceration.
  2. For more resources, here is a recommended book list for families impacted by incarceration from the Sentencing Project. 
For Preschoolers & 1st Graders
  1. Watch Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration by Sesame Street.
  2. Ask a family member to read you In My Family by Rebecca Honig-Briggs.
For 2nd-5th Graders
  1. Watch Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration - Nylo's Story by Sesame Street, about a young man whose mother is in prison and how he copes with being away from her.  
  2. Watch and listen to this Reading Rainbow read aloud of Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson. 

For Middle & High School Students
  1. Through the Echoes of Incarceration Project, a group of young filmmakers with incarcerated parents set out to understand some of the hidden consequences of our nation's approach to imprisonment.  In their first film, Caring Through Struggle: Caregivers of Children with Incarcerated Parents, the crew journeyed to understand their childhood being brought up by grandparents, and by extension, the issues caregivers face when raising a child with an incarcerated parent. It involved tough questions, and some surprising realizations that a crew member had more in common with the grandmothers than he expected.(1)
  2. Watch  Visiting Day (Parts 2 and 3) which tells a story of how a parent's incarceration impacts an entire family.
(1)   Echoes of Incarceration Project

Share Your Story! 
Have you or someone you know been sentenced excessively for a low level offense?
What happened? What do you think is being done to exempt this law?
Share with us. We want to hear your story.