The US law seems to be quite enamoured with mandatory minimum sentences, especially when it comes to drug crimes.

Mandatory minimum sentences seem to have mostly impacted prison populations rather than lowering crime rates.

In her book The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander writes:

Most people imagine that the explosion in the U.S. prison population during the past twenty-five years reflects changes in crime rates. Few would guess that our prison population leaped from approximately 350,000 to 2.3 million in such a short period of time due to changes in laws and policies, not changes in crime rates. Yet it has been changes in our laws—particularly the dramatic increases in the length of prison sentences—that have been responsible for the growth of our prison system, not increases in crime. One study suggests that the entire increase in the prison population from 1980 to 2001 can be explained by sentencing policy changes.

The study she cites is:

See Mauer, Race to Incarcerate, 33, 36—38, citing Warren Young and Mark Brown.

What political parties are in favor of such a system and why?

  • 3
    "Mandatory minimum sentences seem to have mostly impacted prison populations rather than lowering crime rates." And yet crime rates went down after mandatory minimum sentences were introduced.
    – Brythan
    May 30, 2018 at 16:31
  • 2
    For starters, I imagine the prison industry is all in favor of them.
    – user1530
    May 30, 2018 at 17:07
  • 3
    @Brythan that's highly debatable, the least being that much of the minimum sentencing ended up being handed out to non-violent drug cases. pbs.org/newshour/politics/…
    – user1530
    May 30, 2018 at 17:08
  • 4
    This would be an interesting question, if written in a more objective way. Also, a reference to sustain the claim from the second paragraph is welcomed.
    – Alexei
    May 30, 2018 at 17:18
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    @Brythan, Re "rates went down after": perhaps the rates of reportage went down. Also MMS are for too many a greater crime in of themselves, but street crime rates don't include the harms from lives stolen for free labor, (e.g. Texas prisons), nor unemployed workers being lowballed out of minimum wage jobs by firms that lease workers from prisons.
    – agc
    May 31, 2018 at 2:28

2 Answers 2


Mandatory minimums are a sign of being 'hard on crime', which appeals to some people in both political parties.

Explicitly they prevent 'non-violent' drug related crimes from receiving light sentences, again stopping drugs is seen positively by some people on both sides of the aisle.

Bipartisan efforts in 2015 (Democrat President with Republican Congress and Senate) reduced them, so clearly there is no party with minimums as a core ideology.

  • 1
    Case in point, Baltimore City's fully Democratic City Counsel were torn over harsher sentencing guidelines that would have included a minimum of 1 year jail time if the offender was found in unlawful possession of a fire arm on first offense.
    – hszmv
    May 31, 2018 at 19:13
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    The first sentence (particularly before the comma, might (at least it was for me) be hard to parse. Unfortunately, my English grammar isn't up to a possible clarification. Maybe single quotes around hard on crime?
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 1, 2018 at 12:33

The desire for mandatory minimums tends to be driven by news stories like this one. The guy had been convicted of multiple robberies, assaults, and threats, and his girlfriend was obviously terrified of him, yet he was out to finally commit a murder, which may put him away for good. But people will ask "If he had been guilty of so many crimes previously, why was he free to kill someone?"

That is why people ask for mandatory minimums. It's not limited by political party; see three strikes laws in the US, for example, with such laws aplenty in both red and blue states.


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