To combat drug trafficking and abuse, the United States government has stepped up the war on drugs by enforcing stringent laws coupled with implementing harsh sentencing policies. According to King and Mauer (2002), due to the stringent laws and harsh sentencing policies, inmates imprisoned as drug offenders have increased exponentially from about 40,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 in 2000. It, therefore, means that, within 20 years, the proportion of inmates incarcerated as drug offenders has increased by more than 1000%, which is quite shocking. Hence, this paper seeks to address the variables that influence the sentencing decision of judges in drug offender cases, which have led to an exponential increase of inmates who are drug offenders.
When judges convict a suspect of committing a certain crime, they declare a sentence to punish an offender. Although all types of sentences issued by judges have the basic objective of punishing an offender, types of punishment vary depending on the nature of the crime, the criminal history of the offender, and the penal philosophy employed by judges. Additionally, government policies, age, gender, race, and ethnicity are other variables that influence the sentencing decision of judges. Regarding government policies, stringent laws and harsh sentencing policies have elicited criticism that they are not effective and humane ways of dealing with the problem of drug trafficking and abuse because drug offenders are mostly addicts who need rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Moreover, critics also cite that, there is a terrific deal of disparity in sentencing, which reflects racial and ethical biases coupled with age and gender variables. Freiburger (2009) argues that black drug offenders are more likely to receive a harsh penalty as compared to white offenders. In terms of gender, male offenders are also more susceptible to harsher penalties than female offenders are.
Therefore, to establish variables that influence the sentencing decision of judges in drug offender cases, research will survey the nature of cases that have led to the exponential increase of the inmate population. The study will determine whether independent variables such as sentencing philosophy, government policies, ethnicity, race, and gender significantly influence the sentencing decision of judges. Since sentencing philosophy and government policies are significant variables that influence the sentencing decision of judges, the study will examine their influence on cases involving drug offenders. The study will examine and analyze secondary data to examine if judges mainly employ deterrence sentences to discourage and prevent drug trafficking and abuse. According to Jones and Attorney (2007), deterrence objective is to punish individual offenders to prevent them from committing further crimes and warn potential criminals in public. Thus, a deterrence sentence can be a factor that is contributing to the high number of drug offenders incarcerated. Regarding disparity in race, gender, and ethnicity of imprisoned drug offenders, the study will gather secondary data and analyze it to establish if judges have any biases in their sentencing decisions.
In the analysis of data, the study determines the nature of sentencing philosophy that judges predominantly employ, relative to government policies regarding drug trafficking and abuse. Since the United States government has declared war on drugs, the criminal justice system is probably supporting the deterrence form of sentencing. In ascertaining judicial bias associated with gender, ethnicity, and race, the study will calculate their respective percentages according to prison records. Information obtained from the study will be relevant in ensuring that drug offenders receive fair sentencing despite government policies, gender, race, and ethnicity, which influence the decision of sentencing that judges make.
Freiburger, T. (2009). Race and the Sentencing of Drug Offenders: An Examination of the Focal Concerns Perspective. The Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice, 6(2), 163-177.
Jones, J., & Attorney, S. (2007). Sentencing: Philosophy, Norms, and Alternative Practices. Municipal Court Judges of Georgia, 1-21.
King, R., & Mauer, M. (2002). Distorted Priorities: Drug Offenders in State Prisons. The Sentencing Project, 1-19.