Mandatory minimum sentences impose a set floor of prison time, typically based on the charge and a person’s criminal history. Such laws made a signal contribution at the origins of our mass incarceration era, yet their impact is ongoing.
Our analysis of felony arrests in New York City found a third of people charged were potentially subject to a minimum.
The impact of minimums differs starkly by race. We found Black people were more likely to be arrested for a felony, and, among those convicted, more likely to suffer imprisonment and more likely to receive a minimum sentence.
Given the role of minimums in intensifying racial disparities, the most impactful reform would be to eliminate the prospect of automatic incarceration entirely. However, in an effort to inform policymakers, our analysis concludes by projecting the effects of a range of partial elimination scenarios, with a particular eye on racial equity.
As of January 2023, we changed our name to Center for Justice Innovation. Though originally published under our previous name (Center for Court Innovation), the name and logo in this document has been updated to reflect the new name.
See our companion publication: Advancing Racial Equity: Shrinking Misdemeanor Prosecution in New York.