Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Inquirer Letters Extra: Mean streets, even with full jails

Mandatory sentencing dramatically increases the number of people in prison, even as countless studies have shown it does nothing to deter crime.

Inquirer Letters Extra: Mean streets, even with full jails

Graterford Prison in Montgomery County
Graterford Prison in Montgomery County

It is disheartening to see that Pennsylvania legislators again are looking to harsh mandatory-minimum sentencing laws as an answer to gun violence in Philadelphia ("Proposed gun law targets city," April 5). Mandatory sentencing dramatically increases the number of people in prison, even as countless studies have shown it does nothing to deter crime.

Lawmakers should know better. In 2007, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, an entity funded by the state specifically to guide sentencing policy, released a report that showed mandatory sentencing has no impact on recidivism.

Over the past 30 years, Pennsylvania's incarceration rate has increased by over 500 percent, largely because of this kind of shortsighted legislation. The state is spending over $400 million to build new prisons outside of Philadelphia, while 23 city schools are slated to close to due budget cuts.

It is especially disturbing that this proposed bill would apply only to Philadelphia. Already, Pennsylvania incarcerates blacks at a rate nine times higher than whites. Singling out a city with so many minorities virtually guarantees an increase in the already-outrageous racial disparity in the prison system. There is simply no reason to apply a sentencing law only to Philadelphians, unless it is specifically intended to target people of color.

Philadelphia has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, yet there were 331 homicides here in 2012 alone. Clearly, mass imprisonment hasn't ended gun violence. If legislators care about keeping people safe, they should attack the root causes of violence by investing in schools, healthcare, and community programs.

Sean Damon, Decarcerate PA, Philadelphia

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