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Laws requiring minimum sentences for certain crimes have become increasingly popular, and the most frequently applied of these mandatory minimums are those pertaining to drug offenders. Proponents and opponents of mandatory minimums generally argue over issues of punishment, deterrence, justice, and fairness. The authors of the current study examine mandatory minimum drug sentences from the viewpoint of cost-effectiveness at achieving such national drug control objectives as reducing cocaine consumption and cocaine-related crime. They conduct their analysis with the help of mathematical models estimating the response of cocaine supply and demand to changes in levels of enforcement and treatment. The authors find that a million dollars spent extending sentences to mandatory minimum lengths would reduce cocaine consumption less than would a million dollars spent on the pre-mandatory-minimum mix of arrests, prosecution, and sentencing. Neither would reduce cocaine consumption or cocaine-related crime as much as spending a million dollars treating heavy users. These conclusions are robust to changes in various assumptions underlying the analysis.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Part I

    Part I

  • Chapter Two

    The Laws and the Surrounding Debate

  • Chapter Three

    Cost-Effectiveness at Reducing Cocaine Consumption and Expenditures

  • Chapter Four

    Other Measures of Cost-Effectiveness

  • Chapter Five

    Concluding Observations

  • Part II

    Part II

  • Chapter Six

    Longer Sentences for All Drug Dealers: Details of the Dynamic Analysis

  • Chapter Seven

    Mandatory Minimums for Federally Prosecuted Drug Dealers: Details of the Static Analysis

  • Appendix A

    Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws for Drug Offenses

  • Appendix B

    Derivation of Parameter Values

  • Appendix C

    Derivation of Equations in Table 7.1

  • Appendix D

    Estimating the Relationship Between Drug Markets and Crime

  • References

This research was supported by a gift from Richard B. Wolf of Richland Mills and by funding from The Ford Foundation. This study was carried out within RAND's Drug Policy Research Center.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Monograph report series. The monograph/report was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1993 to 2003. RAND monograph/reports presented major research findings that addressed the challenges facing the public and private sectors. They included executive summaries, technical documentation, and synthesis pieces.

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