Among drug incarcerations, mandatories of 5+ years account for only 8% of person-years sentenced.


Only 8% of all committed time for drug offenses in Fiscal 2013 (calculated as person-years) was for sentences longer than 5 years. 56% of committed time is in shorter sentences at the state prison level. 35% of committed time is at the house of corrections level where all sentences are under 2.5 years.

In thinking about the consequences of repealing mandatory minimums, it is important to recognize that the longest sentences, the 12 year penalties (formerly 15 year penalties) where the greatest injustices can theoretically occur, are rare. In fact, there were only one two sentences at that level in all of FY13 and only 22 sentences at the next level down. The most common sentence to state prison was for distribution of cocaine which carries a one year minimum. The average sentence imposed on that charge was 3 years, so clearly, in most cases, there was a plea bargain from a more serious mandatory minimum.

In the typical state prison drug case, the negotiation among the court, prosecutor and defense counsel is about a sentence under 5 years in length. Of 482 commitments to state prison in Fiscal 2013, 351 were for charges as to which the mean maximum sentence imposed was under 5 years. And, of course, all of the 1,830 commitments to the houses of corrections, many of which were non-mandatories, but likely broken down from mandatory charges, were for sentences under 2.5 years. The likely outcome change resulting from shifting power from the prosecutor to the sentencing judge by repealing mandatory minimums is therefore more limited than one might infer from the most egregious examples.

The computation in the pie-chart weights state prison sentences more heavily than House sentences because it uses the maximum sentence in computing person-years committed.

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Fiscal 2013 Drug Commitments to State Prison and Houses of Corrections

LevelGroup (current law) Mandatory YearsGoverning OffenseSP # CommittedSP Mean Min MonthsSP Mean Max MonthsHouse # CommittedHouse Mean Months
SP Min Person YearsSP Max Person YearsHouse Person Years
8Mandatory 5+12Traffic Cocaine 200+2162162027270
8Mandatory 5+12Traffic Heroine 200+00000
7Mandatory 5+7 (old range)Traffic Heroin 028-1001190.5103.7083950
7Mandatory 5+8Traffic Cocaine 100-20011124.414401141320
7Mandatory 5+8Traffic Heroin 100-2001144144012120
7Mandatory 5+5Traffic Heroin 036-10046675022250
6Mandatory <55 (old range)Traffic Cocaine 028-1004074.986.702502890
6Mandatory <55 (old range)Traffic Heroin 014-0282569.680.701451680
6Mandatory <53.5Distribute Class A 2nd1757.564.6082920
6Mandatory <53.5Distribute Cocaine 2nd1555.263.2069790
6Mandatory <53.5Traffic Cocaine 036-10035266013170
5Mandatory <53 (old range)Traffic Cocaine 014-0286846.75402653060
5Mandatory <53.5Traffic Heroin 018-0362486008100
5Mandatory <52Distribute Class B 2nd1640.943.9055590
5Mandatory <52Traffic Cocaine 018-036735.135.1020200
4Mandatory <51Traffic Mar 50-1000218003
4Mandatory <52Control Substance School629346924.31517140
4Mandatory <51Distribute Cocaine9535.742.45520.828333695
4Non-MandatoryDistribute Class A8033.240.331411.4221268300
4Non-MandatoryDistribute Class B6330.837.636610.4162197317
4Non-MandatoryGiving Prisoner Cont Sub4212445.8782
4Non-MandatoryLarceny Cont Sub1244810.3240
3Mandatory <52Possession Class A Heroin 2nd058.4004
3Non-MandatoryDistribute Class C0206.20010
3Mandatory <5Distribute Class D 2nd0212002
3Non-MandatoryPossession Class A 2nd085.9004
3Non-MandatoryPossession Class B 2nd0178.80012
3Non-MandatoryPossession Class D 2nd00000
3Non-MandatoryPossession Hypodermic 2nd012000
2Non-MandatoryDistribute Class D01186.20061
2Non-MandatoryDistribute Class E0165.2007
2Non-MandatoryDistribute Counterfeit Substance064.6002
2Non-MandatoryDistribute Paraphenalia00000
2Non-MandatoryForge Prescription0194.8008
2Non-MandatoryPossession Class A02213.50064
2Non-MandatoryPossession Class A Heroin0954.30034
2Non-MandatoryPossession Class B03443.900111
2Non-MandatoryPossession Class C0443.20012
2Non-MandatoryPossession Class D0123.2003
2Non-MandatoryPossession Hypodermic/Syringe00000
2Non-MandatoryPresence Class A0134.1004
1Non-MandatoryPossession Class D Marijuana043.6001
1Non-MandatoryPossession Class E0522.60011
0Non-MandatoryConspiracy Violate CSA1142.548.6226.5394512
Source: Derived from Tables 44-46 in Fiscal 2013 Survey of Sentencing Practices. The Sentencing Commission provided these tables in electronic form.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.