NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Rethinking "Mandatory Minimums"

June 7, 1999

In an effort to get tough on crime, many states in the 1980s passed laws forcing judges to impose fixed terms on offenders convicted of crimes involving drugs and certain firearms offenses. But the laws sent the prison population soaring, and many law enforcement experts are recommending that they be revised.

Lawmakers in some states are responding.

  • Arizona, Oklahoma, Michigan and Connecticut have set up commissions to review criminal codes.
  • Michigan last year rolled back its mandatory minimum life sentence for drug dealing.
  • A Washington, D.C.-based group called Families Against Mandatory Minimums now has 28 chapters in 21 states.
  • A study of mandatory sentences by the Rand Corporation suggested that the problem was that sentences did not specifically target high-level drug dealers and wound up netting too many small fish.

The drug-driven explosion of the prison population has culminated nationally in a $31 billion annual corrections budget -- double that of a decade ago. While there are now nearly two million Americans in prison -- including 1.1 million for nonviolent offenses -- some experts predict that if the rate of increase does not decline, three million more may be behind bars by 2010, and the annual budget may reach $40 billion.

Source: Muriel Dobbin, "Mandatory Terms Causing Exploding Prison Population," Washington Times, June 6, 1999.


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