Report: Federal Drug Sentence Length Up 36 Percent Since 1980


The length of prison sentences given to federal drug offenders grew 36 percent in the last three decades after laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s established mandatory minimum sentences and limited parole, according to a report released by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Among other findings, the report shows an increase in the average sentences given to drug offenders and a decrease in the number of drug offenders who received probation.

The average sentence given to a drug offender grew from 54.6 months to 74.2 months between 1980 and 2011 (the most recent year for which comparable statistics are available), the report states, noting that the same time period saw a slight decrease in average sentences for other offenders. Meanwhile, the percentage of convicted drug offenders who received probation sentences fell from 26 percent in 1980 to 6 percent in 2014.

The report points to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which eliminated parole, and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which established five-year minimum sentences for some drug traffickers, as two reasons for the upward tick in prison sentences.

“Stiffer federal drug sentencing laws were supposed to punish major traffickers and deter people from getting into the narcotics trade,” Adam Gelb, director of Pew's Public Safety Performance Project, said in a statement. “The punishment part happened but not the deterrence.”

Read the study here.

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