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.
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.
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.
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)