The State Court Perspective
Beginning in the late 1970s the United States initiated what has become known as the “war on crime” and the “war on drugs” in response to a significant increase in drug-related crimes. States along with the federal government enacted a host of laws that impact the courts primarily by (1) increasing both the number of crimes and associated penalties, and (2) significantly curtailing the exercise of judicial discretion in sentencing decisions. This contributed to an unprecedented increase in incarceration rates attributable: to an increasingly punitive political climate surrounding criminal justice policy formed in a period of rising crime and rapid social change. This provided the context for a series of policy choices – across all branches and levels of government – that significantly increased sentence lengths, required prison time for minor offenses, and intensified punishment for drug crimes. New Jersey, for example, enacted the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1986, which declared that it was the public policy of the state “to provide for the strict punishment, deterrence and incapacitation of the most culpable and dangerous drug offenders, and to facilitate where feasible the rehabilitation of drug dependent persons so as ultimately to reduce the demand for illegal controlled dangerous substances and the incidence of drug-related crime.”
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