Mandatory Minimums: A National Injustice
Mandatory minimum drug sentencing is legislation passed by Congress in
1986 to create harsher punishments for drug offenders. These laws were
created at a time when drug use was beginning to rise dramatically.
This type of sentencing was meant to impose harsh, excessive sentences
on any type of drug offense, despite other circumstances. While these
laws seem good in theory, they were not well thought out. The creators
and supporters did not consider the negative consequences of these
strict laws. The injustices of federal mandatory minimum sentences
have been present for years in the United States justice system. These
laws are costly, unjust and excessive in our society.
First, the most obvious effect of mandatory minimums is what it costs
our nation financially. The sentences of drug offenders are now
extremely long, and keeping large numbers of people in jail for long
amounts of time is very costly. The U.S. taxpayers are the ones
suffering because they are the ones that are forced to pay for these
The cost of keeping just one person in prison is incredible. The cost
of imprisoning just one person is on average 23,000 dollars per year.
It is less expensive to put someone through college for four years
than it is to incarcerate someone for four years. The amount of U.S.
tax dollars going towards prison costs is growing faster than all
other federal funding. Everyday 4.14 million dollars of U.S. taxpayer
money goes towards federal prisons and 1.51 billion dollars annually
(Cruel). These costs are continually and dramatically increasing. From
1986, when mandatory minimums were started, to 1997 the Federal Bureau
of Prisons budget increased by over 1350%, from 220 million dollars to
3.19 billion dollars (Drug). The population in prisons has radically
increased. From 1980 to 1999 the prison population has tripled. As
Eric Schlosser notes, “California alone holds more inmates in its
jails and prisons than do France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan,
Singapore, and the Netherlands combined,” (qtd in Easterbrook 57).
This, along with the excessive prison terms, has contributed to the
rise in the Federal Prison budget.
Mandatory minimums are the most costly and least effective way to cut
down on the use of drugs (Greider 12). While mandatory sentencing may
seem like the best way at first, in the long run money would be better
spent on standard sentencing and treatment programs. Mandatory
minimums are more expensive, predominately because of the high costs
of incarceration (Study). Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center performed
a study on the best cost effective way to reduce drug use. Their
results showed that every 1 million dollars spent on mandatory minimum
sentencing helps to reduce cocaine consumption by 13 kilograms....