Fed Drug Offenders ‘Average 11 Years in Prison Under Mandatory Minimums’


More than three quarters of individuals serving drug offenses in federal prisons were convicted of an offense that carries a mandatory minimum penalty, and in 59 percent of those cases the average expected time served was 11 years, according to a data brief released Thursday by the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Correction and the Urban Institute. That was almost twice the penalty given drug offenders who were not convicted under the mandatory-minimum rules.

“Long federal drug sentences are driven both by mandatory minimum penalties and the federal sentencing guidelines,” researchers wrote in the brief titled “Who Gets Time for Federal Drug Offenses? Data Trends and Opportunities for Reform?” Researchers found that the mandatory minimum penalty was applied in 59 percent of the cases they studied.

Individuals serving prison sentences for drug offenses accounted for 49 percent of the total federal prison population at the end of fiscal year 2014, according to the study. Most of the convictions related to drug trafficking, but many of those sentenced were engaged in low-level and nonviolent roles in the drug trade, such as serving as couriers, the researchers said. Lawmakers are now considering legislation that would reduce the mandatory minimum sentences and allow judges greater discretion in sentencing.

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