Cover: Are Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Cost-Effective?

Are Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Cost-Effective?

by Jonathan P. Caulkins

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Abstract

This research brief describes work documented in Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: Throwing Away the Key or the Taxpayers' Money? (MR-827-DPRC).

Excerpt: The DPRC researchers focused on cocaine, which many view as the most problematic drug in America today. They took two approaches to mathematically model the market for cocaine and arrived at the same basic conclusion: Mandatory minimum sentences are not justifiable on the basis of cost-effectiveness at reducing cocaine consumption or drug-related crime. Mandatory minimums reduce cocaine consumption less per million taxpayer dollars spent than spending the same amount on enforcement under the previous sentencing regime. And either enforcement approach reduces drug consumption less, per million dollars spent, than putting heavy users through treatment programs. Mandatory minimums are also less cost-effective than either alternative at reducing cocaine-related crime. A principal reason for these findings is the high cost of incarceration.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research brief series. RAND research briefs present policy-oriented summaries of individual published, peer-reviewed documents or of a body of published work.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.