The hysteria over drugs in the 1980s was fueled by media coverage, Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign and the DARE program. The era produced law after law regarding drug use and trafficking. One of these was the mandatory minimum sentencing law. This imposes severe penalties to first-time lower-level offenders in hopes of scaring individuals away from banned substances. In theory, the law sends a firm message on the country’s stance on drugs. In practice, it simply doesn’t work. As a result, our prisons are overflowing with minor drug offenders.
Though prosecutors have been ordered to stop charging lower-level offenders with mandatory minimum sentences, the results have yet to be seen.
Despite Florida’s crime rate sitting at an all-time low, the state’s prison population is growing rapidly with non-violent first-time offenders, most of whom are convicted of small quantity prescription drug trafficking. Under Florida’s three-year mandatory sentencing, the cost of incarcerating one offender is an estimated $58,400, according to the Florida Office of Program and Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.
The three-year minimum would be a gift to many offenders; for example, under Florida’s laws, a first-time offender convicted of trafficking an amount of oxycodone that amounts to about 44 pills faces a mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison. In Texas, the punishment for same crime is a possible two years in prison.
The outcome is a lose-lose situation – the offenders lose years to the prison system and the ability to find a job post release, while taxpayers lose more and more money keeping offenders locked up.
Mandatory minimum drug sentencing has also created a substantial racial divide in the country’s prison systems. While the majority of America’s drug users are Caucasian, three-quarters of offenders imprisoned for drug offenses are Latino or African American. The disparity proves the laws aren’t working the way they were intended to. They’re outdated, harsh and costing taxpayers millions.
To read more on current mandatory minimum drug laws, click here