Mandatory Minimum Sentences Increase Costs

A study by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing found that mandatory minimum sentences increase the cost of the corrections system without decreasing crime. Corrections costs are already a major source of red ink for the Commonwealth. In 2007, one in 28 adults in Pennsylvania was in prison, on probation or on parole, costing the state more than $1.8 billion.

In Pennsylvania, more than 1,000 people received drug-related mandatory-minimum sentences in 2007, up from 384 a decade earlier. Pennsylvania lawmakers recently approved a $175.2 million increase in corrections spending, and the state will soon have four new prisons to house an inmate population that is growing by about 2,000 people every year.

There are alternatives to incarceration. We’ve advocated mandatory probation, treatment, and work requirements for first-time drug offenders caught with small quantities of drugs for personal use. With 49,000 inmates at $33,000 a year, redirecting first-time offenders could save Pennsylvania taxpayers millions in incarceration costs.