The RAND Drug Policy Research Center has turned out numerous fine reports, and their latest effort is no exception. Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: Throwing Away the Key or the Taxpayers' Money? analyzes the economics of mandatory minimum sentencing and compares its cost effectiveness with conventional law enforcement and with treatment. The RAND team's calculations demonstrate that under current policies, an additional $1 million spent on mandatory minimum length sentences would be roughly half as effective at reducing cocaine consumption as the same amount spent on conventional enforcement (incarcerating more dealers for shorter periods of time), and that spending the money on treatment would be about eight times as effective as mandatory minimums. Looking at a range of parameters, RAND's analysis shows that mandatory minimum length sentences are cost-ineffective for all but the very highest level operators in the drug trade. RAND concludes that mandatory minimums are imposed at the expense of other strategies that would actually reduce the severity of the drug problem - in effect, worsening drug problems by choosing punishment over constructive solutions.
Perhaps as valuable as the report's findings are the accompanying discussions of issues that lay beyond the scope of its analysis. For example, the authors note that when consumption of cocaine is reduced by rising prices, users may switch to other drugs rather than reduce their total drug consumption. Whereas, because some cocaine users also use other drugs, and because most treatment is not drug-specific, treatment can achieve true reductions in use of cocaine as well as other drugs. The report explains the "tri-partite" model of drug-related violence - psychopharmacological, economic-compulsive, and systemic - and points out that expanding street enforcement, while possibly driving up the price of drugs, could also lead to greater disorder in the drug markets and increased violence. These points are beyond the scope of the numerical analysis that the researchers carried out. But by providing an intelligent discussion of such nuances, the authors provide a framework for readers to begin to think about drug policy in a more sophisticated way, as well as suggestions for future research.
The RAND analysis was carried out by a team headed by DPRC researcher Jonathan P. Caulkins, with C. Peter Rydell, William L. Schwabe and James Chiesa, and was sponsored by Richard B. Wolf, President of Richland Mills, with additional funding from the Ford Foundation. To order, call RAND at (310) 451-7002, or visit their web site at http://www.rand.org.
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