After more than twenty years of litigation, the United States Supreme Court finally determined whether California’s overcrowded prison system created a constitutional violation in Brown v. Plata. With prisons and jails across the country operating at well over 100% capacity, the Court concluded what advocates had been screaming for over a decade: prison overcrowding cannot be tolerated, and the only remedy is to reduce prison populations. What the Court failed to resolve, however, was what the primary cause of prison overcrowding is and how states and the federal government are supposed to comply with capacity expectations amid concerns for public safety and tough-on-crime politics.
This Note explores the most significant cause of prison overcrowding in the United States: mandatory minimum sentencing. Part I examines the evolution of mandatory minimum sentencing schemes and how the United States has arrived at the situation it finds itself in today. Part II discusses the current state of prison overcrowding in the United States and its economic implications. Part III analyzes how the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Plata relates to mandatory minimum sentences. Finally, Part IV suggests solutions to our mandatory minimum mayhem. Overall, this Note offers the unavoidable conclusion that mandatory minimum sentencing in the United States must end.